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Ireland rub salt into Welsh wounds

Wales went into Sunday's Six Nations encounter with Ireland determined to exorcise the demons that have gathered around their camp during the past fortnight. Instead, they picked up a few new spooks as the Ireland took full advantage of a hapless Welsh display to record a comprehensive 31-5 victory at Lansdowne Road.

Welsh rugby was already rocking from the sudden departure of Grand Slam-winning head coach Mike Ruddock amid rumours of player power being a major factor.

And now their grip on the title is effectively over with Ireland, Scotland, France and England tied on four points apiece.

Wales, without injured captain Gareth Thomas, made a dominant start inspired by fly-half Stephen Jones, and they took an eighth-minute lead through winger Mark Jones.

But Stephen Jones limped off injured after 19 minutes and that proved the turning point.

Gavin Henson, returning to Test rugby for the first time in a year, endured a miserable afternoon in his place and and must have wished he was still sunning himself on the beach in South Africa. With the polemic celebrity author holding the reins, Wales lost all momentum.

Just 11 months after recording a first Grand Slam in 27 years, Welsh rugby has seemingly shot itself in the foot and, despite the best efforts of the union, cannot control the bleeding.

As far as Welsh fans were concerned, the finger of blame points towards player power and Welsh Rugby Union executives.

Either way, the national team has been left without a head coach - or even a coach with any form of contract - midway through the defence of their Six Nations title.

Such is the discontent and suspicion in the valleys that WRU chief executive Steve Lewis feels it necessary to go on the road and address the 245 member clubs directly.

To make matters worse, just days after Ruddock's departure the Wales captain Gareth Thomas gave an animated defence of his role in the saga, only to collapse later that night and be rushed to hospital in fear of his life.

Thomas was diagnosed with a damaged artery in his neck and will not feature again in the championship.

Of course, those who believe Ruddock was forced out by player power will argue there is no reason why Wales should have been distracted by the events of the last fortnight - after all, they got what they wanted according to some observers.

But Johnson could not inspire a victory in his first Test in sole charge and how Wales missed Thomas's leadership and Stephen Jones's influence.

The fly-half took immediate control of the game. The strong Lansdowne Road cross-wind hampered Wales's initial attempts at playing expansive rugby and they learned quickly.

Wales kept it tight, sniped around the fringes and punctured holes in the Irish defence. Stephen Jones, who had already made one half-break, charged forward 20 yards.

Matthew Watkins chipped over the top and the ball bounced kindly for winger Mark Jones to dive and score in the corner. The try was confirmed by the television match official Marius Jonker, though Stephen Jones missed the difficult touchline conversion.

Ronan O'Gara landed a penalty in reply but Ireland, statistically the slowest starters in the championship, remained under the cosh.

Then came the killer blow for Wales. Stephen Jones, who had been enjoying a hugely productive afternoon, limped off after 19 minutes.

Henson entered the fray to a cacophony of boos and his first real act was to miss a tackle on Trimble as Ireland burst out of their own 22.

The momentum had swung permanently Ireland's way. Denis Leamy just failed to ground the ball after a quick tap penalty but David Wallace charged over from the back of the resulting scrum and this time the busy Jonker awarded the score.

Henson was not enjoying a pleasant afternoon. A sliced clearance was greeted by catcalls from the crowd and Ireland launched a silky counter-attack.

Hooker Jerry Flannery was stopped inches from the line by a last-ditch tackle from Shane Byrne - who was an impressive understudy for Thomas - but O'Gara landed a second penalty to extend Ireland's half-time advantage.

Wales had to score first after the break but Ireland were immediately on the front foot.

Brian O'Driscoll's break down the right forced Dwayne Peel to clear up, but soon afterwards Horgan found a giant gap in the Welsh defence and ran over untouched for Ireland's second try.

O'Gara converted and then landed a third penalty as Ireland raced clear.

Wales lacked shape and cohesion. Henson was not in control behind the scrum, and it seemed a matter of time before Ireland scored again.

There was a long delay for Marcus Horan, who was taken off on a stretcher with his neck in a brace after being caught awkwardly as he attempted to secure a loose ball.

But Ireland duly finished with a flourish and scrum-half Peter Stringer dived over from close range with O'Gara's conversion completing a miserable afternoon for Wales.

Man of the Match: David Wallace was all brave and effective endeavour for Ireland, Peter Stringer was as busy as ever and Brian O'Driscoll so effective, especially on defence. Shane Horgan scored a splendid try and looked for work. But one player stood out above disappointment, disorganisation and mediocrity - Dwayne Peel, the Welsh scrum-half, a player of star quality and undoubted courage.

Moment of the Match: Gavin Henson's appearance - all of his appearance - and his reception, a jeering reception that went on for the whole of his stay on the field. When Stephen Jones went off injured early in the first half, Henson rose from the bench and removed his tracksuit bottom to reveal natty black shorts of the style dancing girls use at rugby matches. He pulled on his white shirt and jogged onto the field, tanned in winter, hair sleeked back like Rudolph Valentino of silent films. His arrival caused an outbreak of booing from the unforgetting Irish who remembered what he had had to say about their hero, Brian O'Driscoll. The jeering went on and on. Each time he touched the ball there was a mixture of boos and wolf whistles. And, sadly, his performance had no star quality about it. He was not the Sheik of Swansea riding to the rescue of his dragons in distress.

Villain of the Match: Ireland loose forward Denis Leamy for his gratuitous stamp on the back of prone Michael Owen who was in no position to defend himself or retaliate. It earned Leamy a yellow card, which suggests that there are people more intent on stamping out stamping than defending it in the O'Driscoll way.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Leamy, Horgan, Stringer
Cons: O'Gara 2
Pens: O'Gara 4

For Wales:
Try: M Jones

Yellow card(s): Leamy (Ireland) - stamping, 76

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (Captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace (Johnny O'Connor, 74), 6 Simon Easterby (Mick O'Driscoll, 76), 5 Malcolm O'Kelly, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery (Rory Best, 77), 1 Marcus Horan (Simon Best, 71).
Unused replacements: Eoin Reddan, 21 David Humphreys, 22 Girvan Dempsey.

Wales: 15 Lee Byrne (Barry Davies, 78), 14 Mark Jones, 13 Hal Luscombe, 12 Matthew Watkins, 11 Dafydd James, 10 Stephen Jones Gavin Henson, 21), 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Michael Owen (captain), 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Colin Charvis (Gareth Delve, 55), 5 Robert Sidoli, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Rhys Thomas (Mefin Davies, 60), 1 Duncan Jones (Gethin Jenkins, 44).
Unused replacements: 18 Jonathan Thomas, 20 Michael Phillips.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Chris White (England), Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
by ysteio | 2006-02-28 19:58 | Six Nations

Scotland stun England at Murrayfield

といっても、stun って言葉自体、「まさか」に相当する唖然とさせる、度肝を抜くっていう意味があるんだけどね。

stun Englad は、イングランドだけじゃないよ、フランスもだよ、という意味で取ってもいいかも(2月6日の記事参照)。

Just as they did against France, Scotland defied all the odds and confounded all their critics with a famous 18-12 victory over England at Murrayfield on Saturday. The stunning result - Scotland's first win over the auld enemy since 2000 - leaves England's Grand Slam dream in tatters and leaves the way open for a Scottish Six Nations title.

Scotland wing Chris Paterson kicked five penalties and fly-half Dan Parks dropped a goal to give Scotland their first Calcutta Cup win since that famous 19-13 success at the turn of the century.

Just as on that day, the wind and rain lashed Murrayfield as the Scots went about deconstructing England's well-laid plans, nullifying their opponent's attacking options and quashing foreign sorties with ruthless efficiency and valour.

Scotland have now beaten England and France in Edinburgh this season in a remarkable turnaround under the new coach Frank Hadden.

All that now stands between the Scots and the title is a bit of luck and two little trips - one to Dublin and one to Rome.

Scotland proved what many expected to be true. England can smash and bash and control and drive and squeeze all they like, but once forced into chasing a game, the attack is found seriously wanting. That there were no tries is more to England's discredit than to Scotland's.

Josh Lewsey provided plenty of sparks, as did Mark Cueto and Ben Cohen. But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, from the centres.

Charlie Hodgson had an average game - he wasn't best served by either Harry Ellis or Matt Dawson - but when he looked at what people did with some of his passes he must have wondered why he bothered anyway.

Too often Cohen and Cueto ploughed into a crowded midfield off their wings, and when the ball should have been going out to them, they were either on the floor or hanging around in the centres. Lewsey's best two moments out wide were supported by Hodgson and Danny Grewcock. A winger was needed both times.

But nothing should detract from Scotland’s performance, they forced the errors and it is their hour.

The Scots produced a heroic performance in defence to wrest away the forward control that England enjoyed so much in the first half and they took every opportunity going.

English ball was turned over some eight times in Scotland's 22 - another symptom of the malaise afflicting England's attack - but also testament to the numbers that Scotland brought to every breakdown. It was like watching wolves bringing down white-shirted bison, and opportunities to pick off the ball were seized on with vulpine efficiency.

In the second half, Scotland took advantage of England's apparent numbness after the break, and for the third quarter, enjoyed a 72 percent territorial advantage. That was the period in which the game was won - Scotland went from 6-3 down to 12-6 ahead.

Mike Blair and Dan Parks orchestrated all the loose possession with admirable calm. And even when pressured in their own 22, the whole back-line passed and kicked and cleared with the coolness, stubbornness and detachment of unionised civil servants ordering paperwork. Under the heaviest pressure, the whole team was unflappable all game and won because of that just as much as anything else.

The first two penalties of the match yielded scores, one for each side. Chris Paterson put Scotland in the lead after two minutes with Andy Sheridan penalised for not rolling away, Hodgson equalised after seven minutes when a Scottish player was penalised for going in on the side. That was the end of scoring for the first half, and England will rue that fact. There were several other opportunities for England to move the ball wide which were simply ignored.

Hodgson worked a scintillating exchange with Lewsey after a loose kick from Hugo Southwell and the Sale playmaker chipped ahead over Paterson before colliding with the Southwell. Referee Allan Lewis - who was excellent - decided it was not a penalty, which was a borderline call, but the replays did not suggest a definite penalty either.

All too frequently, England conceded penalties in the opposition's 22, which also undermined their forward dominance - they stole half of Scotland's line-out ball in the first half. For one, Julian White was admonished for use of a boot. For another, Danny Grewcock was sent to the bin for a senseless challenge on Alastair Kellock. It just wasn't tight or disciplined enough.

Hodgson missed another shot at goal after half an hour, but for fully five minutes after that - and after Lewis Moody had just been brought down short of the line - England had a series of scrums on Scotland's 5-metre line, most of which either collapsed or resulted in English penalties.

England coach Andy Robinson may question why there was no penalty try, but Cohen should have scored anyway from an Ellis pass at the final scrum. He looked for a tackler when he should have been looking at the ball and duly coughed up possession, and that was half-time.

The second half began as the first had done, with a kick apiece. England went first, Hodgson making it 3-6 after an offside, and Paterson equalising from a penalty for the same offence.

Blair and Parks used the boot to much better effect than Hodgson, and up to the hour mark the Scots gained territorial advantage because of it. Not only that, but the tacklers came out briefed to stop Cohen and Cueto in the centres at all costs.

They did so perfectly, and from England there was not a semblance of a Plan B. Paterson slotted a penalty on 49 minutes to make it 9-6, and Parks made it 12-6 with a drop goal on 58 minutes.

An England break down the right - Cueto the instigator - set up the passage of play which led to Hodgson's third penalty on 63 minutes, making it 12-9, and Lawrence Dallaglio and Simon Shaw were rolled on to increase the physicality of England's chargers.

The tension was tangible, but again, the only ones unable to cope appeared to be the English.

The replacements made not one iota of difference to the Scotland defenders, but Shaw's concession of a penalty with eight minutes remaining allowed Paterson to make it 15-9. Scottish fans visualised one hand on the Cup.

Lamont's eagerness to make a tackle took him beyond the offside line with four minutes remaining, and Mike Tindall - made captain after Martin Corry was called off - decided to allow Hodgson to go for posts. Hodgson scored, 15-12, but from the restart, the English pack let the ball bounce tamely into touch.

Urgency finally gripped England, but when they ran from their own 22, Noon was isolated and held onto the ball. Paterson used up about half the remaining time to make it 18-12, and then Hodgson put the restart straight into touch. Yet still England were within a score.

Scotland conceded two penalties in the final minute, an ideal opportunity for Dawson to kick for the corner, but again the calmness was found lacking - in Dawson of all people.

He elected to tap, run into a crowd of navy blue shirts, and get practically eaten alive. The ball squirted out to Joe Worsley, who was penalised for holding on. Paterson hoisted the penalty to touch thinking it was the end, but Lewis said the line-out would still be played. Scottish cheers gagged half-way out of throats.

England stole Scotland's line-out and the drama continued. The ball went wide to Lewsey. Breaths held all over the ground. But Lewsey, then Noon, could find now way through.

The ball squirted out again, and Paterson picked it up. All he had to do was kick it out, but he was swamped by white shirts before he could do so. The ruck lasted an eternity as Scots fans screamed and eyes widened. Then, finally, the ball popped out to Chris Cusiter, who thumped it into touch and started the party.

The Calcutta Cup is back up north, and as a by-the-way, both of Edinburgh's soccer teams made it to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup on Saturday as well. It will be quite a night in Edinburgh.

Man of the match: Scotland's skipper got the official vote, but we will compromise and award it jointly to Jason White and Allister Hogg, whose tackles and ceaseless support play were at the core of Scotland's victory.

Moment of the match: It must be Dan Parks's drop goal. As perfect a strike as you will see this season, and at 12-6, the victory suddenly became a likelihood.

Villain of the match: England lock Danny Grewcock - and this ain't his first appearance in this section. Not only was it a pointless and cowardly shoulder-charge on a player who had his back to Grewcock, it was also after the referee's whistle. When will he learn?

The scorers:

For Scotland:
Pens: Paterson 5
Drop: Parks

For England:
Pens: Hodgson 4

Yellow card(s): Grewcock (England) - playing the man without the ball, 22

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Chris Paterson, 13 Marcus Di Rollo (Simon Webster, 80), 12 Andrew Henderson, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Dan Parks (Gordon Ross, 65), 9 Mike Blair (Chris Cusiter, 65), 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Allister Hogg, 6 Jason White, 5 Alastair Kellock, 4 Scott MacLeod (Nathan Hines, 52), 3 Bruce Douglas (Craig Smith, 61), 2 Dougie Hall (Ross Ford, 59), 1 Gavin Kerr.
Unused Replacements: 19 Jon Petrie.

England: 15 Josh Lewsey, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Jamie Noon, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Ben Cohen, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Harry Ellis (Matt Dawson, 50-63, 74), 8 Martin Corry (Lawrence Dallaglio, 65), 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Danny Grewcock (Simon Shaw, 69), 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Julian White, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Andy Sheridan (Perry Freshwater, 40-41, 74).
Unused replacements: 16 George Chuter, 21 Andy Goode, 22 Tom Voyce.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Touch judges: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Christophe Berdos (France)

By Danny Stephens
by ysteio | 2006-02-27 00:25 | Six Nations

Capricious France overhaul Azzurri

France set up an enticing Six Nations encounter with England by dispatch Italy to the tune of 37-12 at Stade de France on Saturday - but the scoreline flatters the error-strewn Bleus and does not convey the contribution of the ever-improving Azzurri, who, to the dismay of the home crowd, took a 12-8 lead into the break.

Commentators had suggested that France's task in this all-latin meeting was two-fold - to bag a straight victory over the rapidly evolving Italians and to win over their own fans.

If that was the case, France come away only semi-contented - and with the vocal disapproval of the assembled crowd ringing in their ears.

But credit must go to the home side for absorbing the immense Italian pressure before hitting back, rope-a-dope style, in the final quarter of the match.

Yet this game could have had a very different outcome had it not been for just two moments of individual brilliance, namely a sublime crossfield kick from Jean-Baptiste Elissalde that lead to France's first try and a mesmerising dance-cum-break from Thomas Castaignède that set up their second.

In a perverse reverse of France's meeting with Ireland a fortnight ago, when France let a 41-3 lead slip to 43-31 in the second period, the home side saved their best for the second half and sent their fans home with the corners of their mouths twitching into near smiles.

But the fact that they scored all five tries of the match - through Thomas Lièvremont in the first half and Yannick Nyanga, Pieter De Villiers, Aurelien Rougerie and Frédéric Michalak after the break - illustrated that the win was deserved for Bernard Laporte's men.

Italy had put on a massive defensive performance in the first half and forced the errors out of the fickle Frenchmen while the trusty boot of stand-off Ramiro Pez gave them the edge in terms of points.

It was Elissalde who put the first points on the board with a penalty, but then three penalties from Pez turned the score 9-3 in favour of the youngest members of the Six Nations family.

A rare moment of invention from Elissalde then created the only try of the first half for recalled No.8 Thomas Lièvremont who had a simple task of touching down in the corner after an angled kick from the scrum-half had left the Italian defence exposed.

Pez still had time to show his kicking skills with a drop-goal that ensured the Italians led 12-8 at the interval to the clear consternation of the Stade de France crowd.

Shortly after the resumption it was 12-11 as Dimitri Yachvili, who had replaced Elissalde just before the interval, reduced arrears. But the Biarritz man hit an upright with his next effort as the Italians defended their wafer-thin lead as France made a strong opening to the second half.

Pez then missed for the first time and the Italian lead remained at a single point with the game littered with handling errors from both sides.

However, when France did regain the lead it came with another touch of brilliance that had been largely absent from the match.

Italy fullback Cristian Stoica pumped a clearance towards Christophe Dominici who fed Castaignède and the Saracens star's mazy run created the opening that allowed him to offload to Nyanga who touched down in the corner for a try which - like Lievremont's - was not converted.

Yachvili missed another kick and then was made to look foolish as he fumbled the ball with the touchline beckoning although referee Tony Spreadbury had already halted play.

It was De Villiers's try after some extended forward pressure from France that effectively settled the match with Yachvili this time adding the extras.

Rougerie's late try, borne of expansive inter-passing, showed what Les Bleus can do when sitting on a comfortable cushions of points and raised a cheer from the team's hard-to-please onlookers.

Yachvili converted before Michalak redeem a hatful of early errors by picking his way through the defeated Italians to score under the posts.

As the Basque bands stuck up some tunes, Laporte's running debate with the fans mellowed into something resemble a lovers' tiff rather than the prelude to a divorce.

But questions still remain about this France team and the quizmasters will be wearing white.

As for Italy, another gutsy performance, another gutsy defeat. But it will surely come good for them soon - they are too good to end this campaign with nought but the Wooden Spoon.

Man of the match: Who to pick? Not for the first time in this tournament, plenty of hot and cold was blown by both sides - could it be to do with the change of season? Italy centre Mirco Bergamasco impressed yet again, fly-half Ramiro Pez overshadowed his illustrious opposite number, and Paul Griffen - all blood and dreadlocks - was his usual industrious self. Raphaël Ibañez provided the grit to France's performance whilst Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and his replacement, Dimitri Yachvili, both supplied the go-forward. Christophe Dominici had his best game in a France shirt for some time, but our man-of-the-match is Thomas Castaignède who injected moments of animated impetus each time France appeared to drift off to sleep.

Moment of the match: Elissalde's crossfield kick to Thomas Lièvremont was straight out of the top drawer - inch perfect and given a low trajectory in order to remove the cover defence from the equation. But for that oh-la-la moment, look no further than Castaignède's break that lead to Nyanga's try.

Villain of the match: Had it not been for the late tries, the French crowd would have built a fire on the centre spot and tied three players to three stakes. Aurelien Rougerie and Damien Traille for missing simple kicks to the corner, and Frédéric Michalak who, at moments during the third quarter, looked incapable of catching his own breath let alone the ball. But all three redeemed themselves, so we'll hand this award - in good grace - to Nigel Owens, the TMO who took an eternity not to award a try. Several travelling fans managed a boat ride on the Seine in the interlude.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Lievremont, Nyanga, De Villiers, Rougerie, Michalak
Cons: Yachvili 3
Pens: Elissalde, Yachvili

For Italy:
Pen: Pez 3
Drop: Pez

Yellow card(s): Del Fava (Italy) - killing the ball, 62

The teams:

France: 15 Thomas Castaignède, 14 Aurelien Rougerie, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Damien Traille (David Marty, 54), 11 Christophe Dominici, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (Dimitri Yachvili, 39), 8 Thomas Lièvremont, 7 Olivier Magne (Julien Bonnaire, 78), 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Jerôme Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous (Lionel Nallet, 79), 3 Pieter de Villiers, 2 Raphaël Ibañez, 1 Olivier Milloud (Sylvain Marconnet, 52).
Unused replacements: 16 Sebastien Bruno, 22 Cédric Heymans.

Italy: 15 Cristian Stoica, 14 Pablo Canavosio, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Mirco Bergamasco, 11 Luciano Nitoglia, 10 Ramiro Pez, 9 Paul Griffen (Simon Picone, 9-11, 63), 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Josh Sole (Alessandro Zanni, 80), 5 Marco Bortolami (captain), 4 Carlo Del Fava, 3 Carlos Nieto (Martin Castrogiovanni, 73), 2 Fabio Ongaro (Carlo Festuccia, 75), 1 Salvatore Perugini (Andrea Lo Cicero, 75).
Unused replacements: 19 Valerio Bernabò, 22 Ezio Galon.

Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Touch judges: Dave Pearson (England), Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Television match official: Nigel Owens
by ysteio | 2006-02-27 00:16 | Six Nations


by ysteio | 2006-02-19 21:31 | cinema


by ysteio | 2006-02-18 17:59 | cinema

Wales too much for 14-man Scotland

Wales kick-started their Six Nations campaign with a comfortable 28-18 victory Scotland at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.

But the game will be remember for the dismissal of Scotland lock Scott Murray who kicked out after being late-tackled by Ian Gough.

Murray, the first Scottish player to be red-carded in a Test match since 2002, departed after just 22 minutes, with New Zealand referee Steve Walsh also sin-binning Gough for a late tackle on Murray.

The Scots, cock-a-hoop after beating tournament favourites France last weekend, battled bravely following the loss of their lock but could not stay in touch.

It was a satisfactory Welsh response to their 47-13 drubbing against England at Twickenham last Saturday.

Wales attempted to produce their renowned wide game, and with scrum-half Dwayne Peel the architect of those confident attacking efforts, Scotland were ultimately run to a standstill.

Scotland's defeat means England - who visit Murrayfield when the tournament resumes on February 25 - are Six Nations leaders by two points, and now the only team who could clinch a Grand Slam this season.

Wales, meanwhile, will travel in confident mood to Dublin, where Ireland await in a fortnight.

What a first half! What drama! You could watch many, many halves of Test rugby without seeing one of those incidents, but here we had a penalty try and a sending off in the first half. A red card, no less, with a yellow card limping behind it.

The sending off will be the big talking point as Scott Murray becomes just the second Scot in 135 years to be sent off playing for Scotland. Nathan Hines, also a lock got in before him.

The penalty try came after just five minutes of play, the sending off after 21 minutes.

The outcome was pretty well decided then but it went on with lots of passing, lots of lateral running, some enjoyable tries and lots and lots of substitutions. Eventually it was a game that lost its way and ended with two tries to Scotland in the last minute or so to make the score flattering.

The Wales penalty try came early. It started with a great break by Matthew Watkins at centre. He threw a brilliant pass to his right but Mark Jones was tackled into touch, giving Scotland a line-out five metres from their line. They over threw it and Michael Owen accepted their gift and Wales battered. The ball became unplayable and back they went for a five-metre scrum.

The scrum was reset three times and then Gavin Kerr was penalised for not binding in the scrum

Wales, who had the shove on in the scrum, opted for another scrum. Again they shoved ahead and again Scotland were penalised as the scrum collapsed. This time Bruce Douglas was the player singled out.

Wales opted for another scrum and this time they shoved at speed, and Jason White and Simon Taylor detached to get to the ball, and the referee decided that at that scrum a try was probable and awarded a penalty try.

The sending off was a moment of utter silliness by two experienced players. The ball was going away from a line-out. Scott Murray passed it to his left. Long after he had passed it Ian Gough of Wales tackled him from behind. It was late. Murray ended on his back. His feet were free of Gough, his legs bent upwards, and from that position jerked backwards with his boots into Gough's face. The referee saw it.

He gathered the players with their captains and said, pointing to each player as he mentioned him as "you": "Under the laws of the game, this man [Gough] tackled this player [Murray] late. Unfortunately for you [Murray], you [Murray] retaliated and struck out and kicked him [Gough] in the head. I have no option. You [Murray] are red-cared and you [Gough] are in the sin bin. Penalty against you [Murray]"

A medic is at that stage attending to Gough's face. Murray, remarkably calm, leans in, touches Gough and says that he had not intended to kick him.

It was a sad moment but the Scots got on with the game and nothing untoward happened again in the match.

Doubtless the plethora of substitutions made by Scotland was to keep the energy of the seven forwards up and, to their credit, they were not again pushed about as they were in those opening scrums on their line. Indeed, when they had a five-metre scrum against them in the second half they were able to wheel the scrum and win a put-in for themselves.

After the penalty try, the Scots worked their way back into he game. Bruce Douglas had an astonishing burst for a prop down the left, smashing into a determined tackle by Gareth Thomas. When Wales were off-side Paterson goaled a penalty to make the score 7-3 after 18 minutes.

Haldane Luscombe was off bleeding and Lee Byrne came on. He went to fullback with Gareth Thomas moving into the centre. he was in the centre as Wales attacked right, then left and were going right again in the face of the spread Scottish defence. The Welsh captain chipped on an incline to his right, burst ahead and caught the kick and raced over under the posts. Stephen Jones converted again. In fact he converted each of Wales's four tries.

Just before half-time Paterson goaled a second penalty to make the score 14-6 at the break.

The second half was entertaining but somehow it had an air of unreality. The sending off stayed close to the thoughts and yet Wales, a man up, did not really assert their authority as though some form of guilt or sportsmanship inhibited them. They did not seek domination. Maybe Scottish resolved kept them from domination. The result was many passes, lots of the passing lateral.

Andy Henderson broke for Scotland and they threatened the Welsh line but Robert Sidoli brought off a great tackle on Ali Hogg and the move fizzled out with a pass that went into touch.

Wales's third try started when Scotland were on the attack. Dan Parks chipped but running back Matthew Watkins caught the ball and claimed the mark in front of his posts. He tapped, ran and passed to his right, and suddenly Mark Jones was scorching down the right wing. He kicked long and low ahead where Paterson fielded the ball, but Luscombe swung him into touch for a line-out to Wales seven metres from the Scottish goal-line.

Scotland may well have been expecting a catch and maul but instead Owen played the ball straight down to Peel and the scrumhalf set his men going on the left. Gareth Thomas drove strongly at the posts. The ball came back to Peel who darted and then played inside to Sidoli who plunged over for the try. 21-6 with 26 minutes to play.

Peel had a big hand in the last Welsh try. Paterson tried to ruin a kick back but, tackled, lost the ball forward. Owen was there to pop the ball to Stephen Jones who gave to Peel. The brilliant scrumhalf beat two defenders before giving Gareth Thomas a clear run to the line. Over he went in the left-hand corner.

The benches which had been emptying now emptied as the match's formalities were played out.

Not quite, for the Scots are brave. When Martyn Williams was penalised for a trip in front of the Welsh posts, Chris Cusiter tapped and darted close to the line. The ball came back to Sean Lamont who took three defenders out in a muscular drove and then Gordon Ross flung the ball out to Hugo Southwell on his right and the fullback scored far out. Paterson's conversion hit the woodwork and stayed out.

From the kick-off Wales went on a busy attack down the right and then came back left with a long pass, followed by a longer pass which Paterson accepted and ran three-quarters of the length of the filed for a try at the posts. He converted his try, and the final whistle went.

It was a memorable match for the great resurgence of Wales after the battering of Twickenham, but is more likely to be remembered and enter history as the match in which a great forward was sent off the field.

Man of the Match: Many Scots were energetic and brave, including Mike Blair, Ali Hogg and Bruce Douglas. Perhaps their best player was Sean Lamont who has a great work rate and great confidence. But Wales had outstanding players of their own - Duncan Jones, Robert Sidoli, Gareth Tomas and Matthew Watkins and our Man of the Match Dwayne Peel with so much energy and effective skill.

Moment of the Match: A black moment - the sending off of Scott Murray.

Villain of the Match: Scott Murray obviously and bracketed with him Ian Gough who provoked the untoward retaliation.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries: Penalty Try, G Thomas 2, Sidoli
Cons: S Jones 4

For Scotland:
Tries: Southwell, Paterson
Con: Paterson
Pens: Paterson 2

Yellow card(s): Gough (Wales) - late tackle, 21
Red card(s): Murray (Scotland) - retaliation, 21

The teams:

Wales: 15 Gareth Thomas (captain), 14 Mark Jones, 13 Hal Luscombe, 12 Matthew Watkins, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Michael Owen, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Colin Charvis, 5 Robert Sidoli, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Rhys Thomas, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Mefin Davies, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Gareth Delve, 19 Adam M Jones, 20 Michael Phillips, 21 Nicky Robinson, 22 Lee Byrne.

Scotland: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Chris Paterson, 13 Ben McDougall, 12 Andrew Henderson, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Allister Hogg, 6 Jason White (captain), 5 Scott Murray, 4 Alastair Kellock, 3 Bruce Douglas, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Gavin Kerr.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Craig Smith, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Jon Petrie, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Gordon Ross, 22 Simon Webster.

Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Eric Darrière (France)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
by ysteio | 2006-02-15 22:13 | Six Nations


England made to sweat by Italy

England recorded their first away win for two years in the shape of a 31-16 victory over Italy at Stadio Flaminio in Rome on Saturday - but their heroic hosts gave the RWC-holders a major scare.

England's three previous Six Nations trips to Rome had seen them average 51 points a time, but Italy are made of sterner stuff these days and they briefly enjoyed a 9-7 advantage through two drop-goals and a penalty from fly-half Ramiro Pez.

The scoreline tells a far more flattering story than the witnesses. England struggled to the win - they were behind with 28 minutes remaining - and only won by virtue of those old chestnuts, fitness and power.

Italy managed something nobody considered they might do: they improved on last week's performance. They will have to be careful, soon we will be expecting them to play like this.

The blue-shirted defenders - led by a fabulous performance from Sergio Parisse - swarmed all over the English runners and never gave them the vaguest bubble of breathing space. The scrum - some 6 kg per man lighter, held up all game, and the statistic that stands out the most for the Italian pack is the number of times England tried to catch-and-drive a try, and the number of times they succeeded: 9 attempts, 0 successes. Outside the forwards they had done their homework as well - Tom Voyce was marshalled by three tacklers every single time he had the ball.

When they had the ball, they moved it gamely left and right with a belief that no Azzurri Six Nations team has ever shown before. The forwards were happy to charge forward to make the hard yards and create the space.

It wasn't just enthusiastic bluster either. Ramiro Pez was found wanting in defence by Charlie Hodgson late in the game, but his control and decision-making with the ball was spot on for just as much time as Hodgson's was. The centres crashed well into their opponents, and the supporting forwards made it near-impossible for England to disrupt the ball.

Less streetwise teams than England would have conceded more tries, but Italy still lack a game-breaker out wide.

England? They were clinical, composed, and painful at times. By the hour mark they had finally run down their counterparts, and then a three-quarter movement yielded a sumptuous try. Yet even for the final minutes they refused to spread the ball any further than the centres or the forward runners coming off Hodgson's shoulder.

You can argue that it was in respect of the danger Italy posed, but England had already boh sliced their opposition open and worn them down. Hodgson eventually started running on his own, such was his frustration.

It is not as if the close runner tactic was mightily effective, and a team more seasoned than the Italians would have negated it for the full eighty minutes. England will need something more imaginative to beat Scotland in a fortnight's time.

The close runners - Grewcock, Borthwick, and Moody were the chosen trio - were the feature of the opening twenty minutes, with England enjoying most of the possession. Italy tackled out every opportunity England could create, and should have taken the lead with a penalty after ten minutes, but Pez hit the upright.

Italy could also have taken the lead shortly before, when a fine set of passes through the three-quarters sent Ludovico Nitoglia on his way to the line. Nitoglia backed himself - a reasonable decision - but he needed to make the ball available and ofload when he was tackled. He did not, and Ongaro was left to flap his arms in frustration.

Between 15 and 25 minutes, England enjoyed near-total dominance. They had a sequence of three penalties close to the Italian line, and with the scrum not making yards, opted to catch and maul every time. Italy's forwards dug their studs into the turf and held off drives for fully five minutes in a magnificent display of defence, and eventually forced England into conceding a penalty themselves, after England's final drive had been ruled held up in-goal by the video referee.

Finally, England broke through though, with Tindall crashing through the 10/12 gap for the opening score after 27 minutes. Hodgson converted.

Where Italy may concede they made a tactical error was in the choice not to contest England's defensive line-outs. Pez, Canale, and Cristian Stoica all placed raking kicks down into England's 22, but the English were allowed to clear virtually unopposed.

Eventually Pez slotted a penalty after 33 minutes, and the percentage kicks paid off even more when a tapped penalty in England's half took Pez to within range, and he dropped a goal two minutes before the break.

The cheers that greeted that were nothing to the cheers that broke out as Italy took the lead two minutes into the second half. A dreadful mistake by Danny Grewcock at the kick-off gave Italy an attacking scrum, the ball was moved wide twice, crashed up the middle once, and Pez dropped another goal to make it 9-7. At that moment more than any though, the lack of a line-breaker in Italy's attack was glaring. They really should have been thinking of a try.

England then rumbled into another spell of forward crashing by the Italian line, but still the blue wall held firm, and all Andy Robinson's men could show for ten minutes of pressure was another Hodgson penalty.

Matt Dawson came onto the pitch after 55 minutes, and his first touch was a scoring pass. Joe Worsley led a charge into Italy's 22, Dawson found Hodgson on the short side, and Hodgson scored under the posts with a searing break. His conversion made it 17-9.

Then the England bench entered the fray, and took control against the tiring Azzuri. Stoica was left isolated from a deep Hodgson clearance and conceded a penalty which Hodgson smacked against the upright. From the drop out, Hodgson again found Pez exposed on his outside and broke superbly, but there was no supporter and the move broke down.

With 13 minutes remaining, England scored a fabulous try, which begged to be encored against the cramping Italians. Tindall found Cohen on his inside, the Northampton winger stormed through the line and timed his pass to Mark Cueto perfectly. Hodgson's conversion was spot on, making it 24-9.

Still England crashed dully, and still the Italians were happy to stand their ground and soak up the pressure - in the second half alone they made three times as many tackles as the English. Had England moved the ball, they could have given the scoreline a cruel look, but there was simply nothing offered. Italy waited and tackled and waited, and then seized on their chance.

Canale finally broke away, paused for his support brilliantly, Mirco Bergamasco came on a tight angle and broke the two tackles for the try that was the most just of rewards.

16-24 would have been a fair scoreline, but Italy paid for adventure in the final play of the game when James Simpson-Daniel picked up a dropped ball to coast home unopposed. Hodgson made it 31-16 with the final kick of the game.

Man of the match: For England, Charlie Hodgson stood out for his adventure, and Joe Worsley and both locks were superb driving forward. For Italy, Ramiro Pez delivered a mature performance and the props stood up admirably against their illustrious counterparts, but for an all-round powerful, driving, tackling, and courageous performance Sergio Parisse gets our vote for man of the match.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Tries: Mirco Bergamasco
Con: Pez
Pen: Pez
Drops: Pez 2

For England:
Tries: Hodgson, Tindall, Simpson-Daniel, Cueto
Con: Hodgson 4
Pen: Hodgson

The teams:

Italy: 15 Cristian Stoica, 14 Pablo Canavosio, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Mirco Bergamasco, 11 Ludovico Nitoglia, 10 Ramiro Pez, 9 Paul Griffen, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Josh Sole, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Santiago Dellape, 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Antonio Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Carlo Del Fava, 20 Silvio Orlando, 21 Simon Picone, 22 Rima Wakarua.

England: 15 Tom Voyce, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Jamie Noon, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Ben Cohen, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Martin Corry (c), 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Andy Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Julian White, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Lawrence Dallaglio, 20 Matt Dawson, 21 Andy Goode, 22 James Simpsn-Daniel.

Referee: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Donal Courtney (Ireland), Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
by ysteio | 2006-02-15 22:10 | Six Nations



Ireland fail to catch fickle French

France exorcised their Scottish demons by recorded a bizarre 43-31 victory over Ireland in Paris on Saturday, racking up six tries before their guests mounted a brave but late response.

The French seemed on course for a resounding victory as they opened up a 43-3 lead over the error-prone Irish.

Ireland rallied to touch down through Ronan O'Gara, Gordon D'Arcy, Donncha O'Callaghan and Andrew Trimble in the second half but France had done enough.

Cédric Heymans and David Marty scored two tries apiece for France after Aurelien Rougerie had justified his recall by starting what, for an hour, looked like being a rout in the third minute.

The afternoon started badly for Ireland as Rougerie found space to touch down out wide and Olivier Magne, also restored to the side, added a second after eight minutes.

Marty charged down a kick to claim his first and a poor Geordan Murphy pass allowed Heymans to intercept and add another before the interval.

Heymans claimed his second five minutes after the restart and Marty made it 43-3 three minutes later.

Ireland scored what seemed a consolation as O'Gara found his way in by the posts on 56 minutes but D'Arcy followed him over four minutes later.

O'Callaghan then forced his way over from close range and Trimble set up a remarkable finish with another moments later.

Despite further pressure, it was all too late for Ireland, however, and France held on.

France made a blistering start with Ireland pushed back at two consecutive scrums but there was worse to come with their line breached in just the third minute.

The second buckling scrum saw the ball released to the backs where Tommy Bowe's missed tackle on Heymans created an overlap which Rougerie finished in the right corner.

Brian O'Driscoll made a couple of darting runs as Ireland searched for an immediate reply and scrum-half Peter Stringer almost wriggled over before being shoved back.

But their good work was undone when France ran in their second try thanks to the vision of Heymans whose quickly taken 22 drop-out found acres of the space on the left.

Denis Leamy and Geordan Murphy covered across but the ball bounced cruelly and fell to the onrushing Frédéric Michalak who supplied the scoring pass to Magne.

Jean-Baptiste Elissalde added the two points and the problems continued for Ireland when one promising move ended with openside David Wallace running out of space with no support.

By the 18th minute Ireland looked dead and buried as France had extended their lead to 19 points after David Marty charged down Ronan O'Gara's clearance, gathered and touched down. Elissalde converted.

Ireland looked to bring in Shane Horgan off the wing as often as possible and the tactic worked with the Leinster winger frequently crossing the gain-line.

But they were often losing the ball at the breakdown with France's back row gaining ascendancy in the loose.

O'Driscoll lost the ball in the tackle as Ireland probed down the left touchline, allowing France to clear their lines, while Geordan Murphy and Gordon D'Arcy sent two passes into touch, squandering valuable possession.

O'Gara booted Ireland off the mark with a penalty but Elissalde replied in kind, and it was not long before France had extended their lead with a fourth try.

O'Sullivan will be furious with the manner in which it was scored as Murphy floated a loose pass to no-one in particular and the impressive Heymans easily intercepted and romped home.

Elissalde booted the extras to give France a 29-3 interval lead which Ireland had no hope of overcoming given their desperate lack of direction in attack.

France began the second period as they had the first, and Marty worked Heymans into the corner for a simple run-in in the 44th minute and Elissalde rubbed salt into the Ireland's wounds by kicking the conversion.

Just when Ireland thought it could not get any worse it did three minutes later when O'Gara kicked the ball straight at Marty who caught and dashed over the whitewash from 20 yards out.

Murphy provided some inspiration as the Irish went close to crossing, breaking from deep before the ball found Wallace via D'Arcy only for the Munster openside to be tackled five metres short.

The visitors maintained the pressure by launching waves of attacks and eventually the French defence collapsed with O'Gara scampering home and the converting his own try.

Ireland hit back again in the 70th minute with D'Arcy finishing a break from Stringer but a raft of substitutions had left France looking disjointed.

Donncha O'Callaghan barged over and O'Gara converted to slash the deficit to 43-24 and there were a few worried faces when O'Driscoll set up Ireland's fourth try for Andrew Trimble.

But they could not add to the score in the last 10 minutes as relieved France held out for the victory.

Man of the match: Ireland were awful in the first half and sublime in the second. France were sublime in the first half and awful in the second. Given the bizarre circumstances, it's hard to know where this award should be thrust. Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Paul O'Connell all put in brave showings but their lack of cohesion in the early stages rules them out of contention. David Marty and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde sparkled for France, but it was the old warhorse from London Irish who caught the eye - Olivier Magne. And they say he's passed it...

Moment of the match: France's opening blitz will live long in the memory - and so will Fabien Pelous's face of incredulity as the final whistle ushered in a chorus of jeers from the French crowd. There's no tougher crowd then Paris!

Villain of the match: Could it be the receptionist at Ireland's hotel? The visitors clearly didn't receive their wake-up call.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Heymans 2, Magne, Marty 2, Rougerie
Cons: Elissalde 5
Pen: Elissalde

For Ireland:
Tries: Trimble, O'Gara, D'Arcy, O'Callaghan
Cons: O'Gara 4
Pen: O'Gara

The teams:

France: 15 Christophe Dominici, 14 Aurélien Rougerie, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 David Marty, 11 Cédric Heymans, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Olivier Magne, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Jérôme Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous (captain), 3 Pieter de Villiers, 2 Raphaël Ibañez, 1 Olivier Milloud.
Replacements: 16 Sébastien Bruno, 17 Sylvain Marconnet, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Rémy Martin, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 Benjamin Boyet, 22 Ludovic Valbon.

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Malcolm O'Kelly, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Reggie Corrigan.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Rmon Best, 18 Donncha O'Callaghan, 19 Johnny O'Connor, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 David Humphreys, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Chris White (England), Rob Dickson (Scotland)
Television match official: Roy Maybank (England)
by ysteio | 2006-02-15 22:06 | Six Nations


Scotland stun France - and the world

Scotland tore up the form books at Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon, recording an astonishing 20-16 victory over France to get their Six Nations campaign off to the best possible start.

Northampton Saints wing Sean Lamont grabbed both of his side's tries as the resurgent Scots recorded a famous victory in front of a jubilant home crowd. But it would be wrong to single out one man from what was a splendid team effort.

The Scots, led by 50-cap winning skipper Jason White, believed they could shock the traditionally slow-starters, especially after giving them a scare on the opening day of the last campaign in Paris, but precious few outside the Scotland camp shared this view. After all, France arrived in Edinburgh as tournament favourites - and departed black and blue and bowed.

It is a game played with mind and heart as well as sinew and skill. It is an oval ball. It is unpredictable. That's why rugby football is a great game. That's why this match as such a thriller. And what a turn-up for the books.

Before the match there was a moment's silence for Guy Basquet, the former French international who played a remarkable 33 Tests for France as a No.8. He had died in Agen on 31 January. The silence was broken with the firing of a cannon.

Back to the match, and all bets were on France. Never mind their injuries, they were still favourites to win the whole Six Nations, let alone this match against the also-ran Scots. An hour and a half later their ambitions were in tatters. It was back to the Eighties for France and their bête noire at Murrayfield. They lost there seven times in succession between 1980 and 1992.

When Jean-Batiste Elissalde missed the conversion of Sébastien Bruno's late try it left France needing a try to win and just three minutes to do it in. They did not look remotely like doing so as the confident Scots clamped down on them again. In the end a four-point margin of defeat flattered the French.

The Scots played second fiddle only in the scrums - but then the French had only five put-ins in the whole match because the Scots were not nearly as error-prone as the French were. But the French did manage that rare rugby feat - a tighthead.

The line-outs were generally sloppy and the French may have been better off here. But the Scots were certainly much better at the tackle. They cleaned out well and provided quick ball.

They were also better with ball in hand, especially their passing in the tackle. There was hardly a Frenchman who did not make a handling error.

No doubt the French missed Yannick Jauzion in the centre. He broke his toe and the French brought Ludovic Valbon to inside centre where he looked right out of his depth. It must have been a nightmare afternoon for him as he wandered about in uncertainty, gave no direction to his backs at all, knocked on and ran across the field. Surprisingly he played the whole of the match.

But most of all there was a great difference in the levels of confidence. France started with insouciance enough but gradually it flagged until they looked planless. On the other hand the confidence level of the Scots rose. Their heads were up, their eyes were glinting and their hearts fearless as they rushed to tackle the jittery French.

That France was so close at the end may have been due to good fortune and the obvious virtues of the few - Cédric Heymans, Florian Fritz, Rémy Martin and Yannick Nyanga.

That said, the try count was still two-all.

The Scots ended the half 13-3, which flattered France. France had started with their usual calm elan but the Scots were unyielding. There was just under two minutes before the first whistle went, when Hugo Southwell kicked the ball into touch. It was another two minutes before the next whistle went, a penalty when Cédric Heymans use his hands in a ruck. It was played at a great pace, as was the whole half on cropped Murrayfield.

The first crack in French composure came when Dan Parks hoisted an up-and-under into the French 22. Under pressure, Nicolas Brusque fumbled and Marcus di Rollo dived on the ball. Suddenly the Scots were attacking but, with a four-against-two overlap, Jason White ran on a diagonal. Dimitri Szarzewski felled White and the French won a turn-over to clear. In fact France won three vital turn-overs in the half when they were in trouble - and they were in lots and lots of trouble.

A line-out to Scotland became a maul where Szarzewski was penalised. It was kickable but the Scots tapped. Their brave intentions were an anticlimax in a mess.

But the Scots got the score they so richly deserved. They battered on the right and then came left with an overlap. Sean Lamont checked and straightened inside Frédéric Michalak and past Pieter de Villiers for a try at the posts. Paterson converted and the Scots were in a well-deserved 7-0 lead after 11 minutes.

Florian Fritz broke but the pass to Brusque was forward. Mike Blair had a break and Gavin Kerr was there to bound on with it. Paterson then goaled a penalty at a tackle. 10-0 after 20 minutes.

Blair broke and gave to Paterson who chipped. Christophe Dominici was penalised for an early tackle and Paterson kicked the goal. 13-0 after 32 minutes and France looked right our of it.

France did get some attaching going but met Scottish aggression on defence and capitulated for Michalak to try a drop, which missed.

On the stroke of half-time Bruce Douglas was penalised and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde goaled to make the score 13-3.

After five minutes of the second half, Scotland got their second try - an astonishing try. A long kick down the left by Hugo Southwell, who must surely have had his best match ever for Scotland, resulted in a line-out on the French 22. On the French 22. It is worth noting. Scotland won the line-out, made a maul and scored a try.

Those are the simple facts until they actually sink in.

The Scottish forwards had taken on the powerful French pack, which had none of the excuses of injury that the backs had, and beat them. In this maul they licked them. They marched the maul down 22 metres and there was big wing Lamont to plunge, stretch and score. Paterson converted to make the score an incredible 20-3.

France's try came five minutes later and was a brilliant moment of interpassing that went down the right with Fritz running well and then came back to the left.

Two on two, Heymans sold a little dummy to fix the Scots and then sent Julien Bonnaire over in the left corner. Elissalde's conversion came back off the bar. That was an important strip of wood in the scheme of the match.

Dan Parks tried a drop and missed. Paterson missed his easiest penalty of the afternoon, but still the Scots led 20-8 and the clock was plodding along as if covered with treacle.

With 20 minutes to go Andrew Henderson tackle high and Elissalde goaled easily. 20-11.

But Scotland kept the ball with many passes. The French dropped the ball with fewer passes.

With three minutes to go, France scored a copy of their earlier try with lots of interpassing before going wide to the left. This time replacement No.8 Thomas Lièvremont was the one to sell a little dummy and pop a pass to replacement hooker Bruno on his inside for a try in the left corner. The conversion was wide.

With a tense minute and a half to play, France got the ball inside their own 22 and Heymans hoisted a kick into touch. The French did not get possession again.

The Scots won the line-out and played keep-ball until, with half a tense minute left, France were penalised at a tackle-ruck. It was kickable, but intent on limiting French options, Paterson kicked the ball out for another Scottish line-out, deep in French territory.

France's only hope was to win the line-out. The Scots won it, and replacement scrum-half Chris Cusiter kicked the ball into touch. The referee did a bit of tense checking and then blew the final whistle for euphoria to break out all over the field and in the stands as the blue and white flags of St Andrew took on colourful life, all over Edinburgh and all over Scotland. And coach Frank Hadden allowed himself a smile - a gentle, satisfied smile.

And in the royal box, with a courteous bow, the president of the French Rugby Federation, tall Bernard Lapasset, shook the hand of the patron of the Scotland Rugby Union, the Princess Royal, and gave her a congratulatory thumbs up.

The Scots had had trouble selling tickets for the match. There must be many a Scot who would regret not being there and be beating his way to a source of tickets for the next match, when the Sassenachs come north on February 25.

Man of the Match: There were only Scottish candidates - 22 of them, but if you whittled it down you would mention Hugo Southwell, clever Chris Paterson, two-try Sean Lamont, all-round scrum-half Mike Blair and the tackling of the forwards. The forwards really laid the victory on and so you would look for your man of the match there, and our man-of-the-match is veteran lock Scott Murray, so good in the line-outs, so unwaveringly strong when making a tackle, and so clever with the ball in hand.

Moment of the Match: That maul - that second half maul that shunted the might of France 22 metres for the try. The first score of the second half was going to be vital and Scotland did it with that remarkable maul.

Villain of the Match: Nobody - why taint such a memorable day of rugby?

The scorers:

For Scotland:
Tries: Lamont 2
Cons: Paterson 2
Pens: Paterson 2

For France:
Tries: Bonnaire, Bruno
Pens: Elissalde 2

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Chris Paterson, 13 Marcus Di Rollo (Simon Webster, 28), 12 Andrew Henderson, 11 Sean Lamont , 10 Dan Parks (Gordon Ross, 64), 9 Mike Blair (Chris Cusiter, 55), 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Allister Hogg, 6 Jason White (captain) (Jon Petrie, 73), 5 Scott Murray, 4 Alastair Kellock (Scott MacLeod, 75), 3 Bruce Douglas (Craig Smith, 41) , 2 Dougie Hall (Scott Lawson, 63), 1 Gavin Kerr.

France: 15 Nicolas Brusque (Guillaume Bousses, 78), 14 Christophe Dominici, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Ludovic Valbon, 11 Cedric Heymans, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (Dimitri Yachvili, 80), 8 Julien Bonnaire (Thomas Lièvremont, 73), 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Rémy Martin, 5 Jérôme Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous (captain), 3 Pieter De Villiers (Olivier Milloud, 64), 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (Sebastian Bruno, 66) , 1 Sylvain Marconnet
Unused replacements: 18 Lionel Nallet, 21 Benjamin Boyet.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Kelvin Deaker, Steve Walsh (both New Zealand)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
by ysteio | 2006-02-06 21:16 | Six Nations



Ireland got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start courtesy of a 26-16 victory over Italy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

But the Italians can return home with their heads held high - they outplayed their hosts in an number of areas of play and produced the only moments of inspiration in a largely forgettable opener to the 2006 Six Nations.

Ireland probably ended the match relieved that their stuttering effort was enough for victory; Pierre Berbizier may well have ended the match proud of his men as a new expansiveness came to the Italians on attack and a greater resolution as they rushed to tackle.

Half-time came with the scores locked at 10-all, a score which did not entirely flatter Ireland as they had had the attacking edge against an Italian side which from the start was expansive and creative.

Ireland levelled the scored moments before half-time when little Ramiro Pez was penalised for a late tackle in a passing movement and sent to the sin-bin. The referee said it was the third late tackle by Italy though only one had been penalised previously, when the referee spoke to Marco Bortolami.

Moments before the sin-binning of Pez, Bortolami had himself been the victim of an unpleasant use of the boot by Brian O'Driscoll, which provoked Italian ire.

There had been a tackle/ruck and Bortolami had dived in. O'Driscoll came down with his boot on the middle of Bortolami's back/side. It was not a rucking movement at all. The referee spoke briefly to O'Driscoll and Bortolami but stayed with the penalty against the Italian. That penalty led to a line-out and the passing movement in which Pez was penalised. An amount of Italy ruefulness was understandable.

In fact, the business of using the boot on a player without trying to ruck the ball was a source of anger for the Italians.

O'Driscoll used his boot on Mirco Bergamasco and then later in the match Denis Leamy really annoyed the Italians when he used his boot close to Paul Griffin's head. Ireland were not penalised but Martín Castrogiovanni was for punching as the went to help his player. That penalty was followed by another which O'Gara used to make the score 26-16.

Italy had good support at enthusiastic Lansdowne Road with several in curly blue wigs, and there was plenty of them to enjoy as Italy attacked.

They started running with good work by Gonzalo Canale and Cristian Stoica who came in from fullback. Italy looked to have the edge in the scrums and Ireland lost its first two line-outs.

When Italy mauled from a line-out near the Irish line, the Irish defence coped easily.

From a line-out just inside the Irish half, Italy went right and then changed direction to go left. Pez sent through a grubber which caused Anthony Horgan problems. Ludovico Nitoglia tackled the big Irish wing who got up with the ball and was penalised. Pez goaled. 3-0 after 13 minutes. At that stage Italy had had 68 percent of possession and over 60 percent of territorial advantage.

Ireland then had two excellent moments, one on the left and then one on the right, which they followed with a try.

First a long pass from a scrum sent Geordan Murphy racing. He gave to Tommy Bowe who was tackled out five metres from the Italian line. Ireland next went right with Horgan speeding down the right wing where he was tackled into touch five metres from the Italian line.

Italy shortened the line-out and threw to the back but up rose immense Paul O'Connell rose up and grabbed the ball in front of Sergio Parisse. Ireland mauled and when they fell over the line Jerry Flannery had scored the try which O'Gara converted. 7-3 to Ireland after 27 minutes.

Two minutes later Italy were back in the lead with a splendid try. With a dinky dummy Pez cut between O'Gara and D'Arcy and raced down the middle of the field. He passed to his left to Mirco Bergamasco who got over the line for the try near the posts, which Pez converted. 10-7 after 29 minutes.

Just before the break O'Gara goaled the penalty which put his side on level terms.

Early in the second half Italy attacked and had a goalable penalty but tapped and ran. Wing Pablo Canavosio, playing scrumhalf which is his more usual position, was close and then Mirco Bergamasco was close, but Ireland were penalised when Simon Easterby came in the side at the tackle/ruck. Griffin took the kick because Pez was still in the sin-bin and with a wide curve he goaled it. 13-10 to Italy.

Soon afterwards O'Gara kicked his third diagonal for Bowe. Practice makes perfect, and the ball landed in Bowe's hands. The wing cut inside Stoica and scored in Mauro Bergamasco's tackle, with some queries about his grounding of the ball. O'Gara goaled. 17-13 and from then on Ireland stayed ahead.

O'Gara goaled a penalty with an in-off and then Pez goaled one when Marcus Horan, struggling in the scrums, was penalised. 20-16 with 18 minutes to go.

Two more penalties by O'Gara ended the scoring but the Italians came closest to a try. Canale went on the loop and kicked ahead but a touch-and-go failure to gather five metres from the Irish line gave the Irish a scrum. At that stage Ireland were leading 23-16.

Man of the Match: For Italy, Fabio Ongaro had a good match at hooker and so did loose forward Sergio Parisse with a zig-zag hairdo but the best of the Italians was lively, energetic, hirsute Paul Griffin. For Ireland, Gordon D'Arcy got better and better and Geordan Murphy looked for every opportunity to run. But our man-of-the-match was Paul O'Connell who made such a difference in the line-outs and everywhere else.

Moment of the Match: That diagonal from Ronan O'Gara to Tommy Bowe was fun but predictable. Our moment-of-the-match was the dummy and break by Ramiro Pez that led to Italy's try.

Villain of the Match: Ramiro Pez got the yellow card but the boot men on the Irish side may well deserve a finger pointed their way.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Flanery, Bowe
Cons: O'Gara
Pens: O'Gara 4

For Italy:
Try: Mi Bergamasco
Con: Pez
Pens: Pez 3

Yellow card(s): Pez, Italy -late tackle, 38

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Malcolm O'Kelly (Donncha O'Callaghan, 62), 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.
Unused replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Simon Best, 19 Johnny O'Connor, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 David Humphreys, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Italy: 15 Cristian Stoica, 14 Pablo Canavosio, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Mirco Bergamasco, 11 Ludovico Nitoglia, 10 Ramiro Pez, 9 Paul Griffen, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco (Aaron Persico, 62), 6 Josh Sole, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain) (Carlo Del Fava, 26-32, 69), 4 Santiago Dellapè, 3 Carlos Nieto (Martin Castrogiovanni, 70), 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Unused replacements: 16 Carlo Antonio Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 21 Simon Picone, 22 Rima Wakarua.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Touch judges: Joël Jutge (France), Nigel Owens (Wales)
Television match official: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
by ysteio | 2006-02-05 10:50 | Six Nations