British and Irish Lions versus Barbarians - 01/06/13

The British and Irish Lions kicked off their 2013 tour of Hong Kong and Australia with a commanding 59-8 victory over the Barbarians in sweltering conditions.

Warren Gatland’s men were expected to open their tour with a win against a Barbarians team who were coming off a disappointing loss against England the previous week.

Gatland selected a starting line up that included nine of his Welsh charges and excluded the recent arrivals from Leicester and Leinster.

Paul O’Connell led the team into battle after tour captain Sam Warburton was left out due to a knee injury and the Irishman played with the spirit that is expected from wearing the famous red shirt.

O’Connell scored the opening try from a metre out after man of the match Mike Phillips broke free from the 22 metre line only to be held short by Barbarian prop Castrogiovanni.

Owen Farrell started at fly half with Sexton settling for a place on the bench but the England player played like a man under pressure and was the biggest victim of the conditions.

Time and time again the ball slipped out of the 21-year old's hands with worrying consistently. Schalk Brits tried to knock the nerves out of Farrell after the Saracen teammates clashed in the first half with Brits receiving a yellow card for his unwarranted punch.

Phillips is one of the world’s best scrum halves and he displayed his physical running style on numerous occasions and ended the evening with two tries to his name.

His replacement Conor Murray continued in the same vein as Phillips and will have impressed the coaching staff with the combination play between himself and Jonathan Sexton.

Sexton struggled with boot on occasions but his play with ball in hand was a significant improvement on the upstaged Farrell.

The Barbarians only try came through a tremendous breakaway run from New Zealand wing Joe Rokocoko as he left Toby Faletau in his wake after a deadly sidestep before offloading to Fotuali’i who scampered across the line.

Jamie Roberts looks to have resumed his form from the 2009 tour as he went over the game line with ease and his partnership with Davies will give fellow centres Brian O’Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi something to think about before they go to sleep tonight.

Welsh wing Alex Cuthbert crossed the try line twice and will have impressed Gatland and his staff with his clinical finishing. The same cannot be said for Scotland win Sean Maitland who was unable to finish off a tempting grubber kick in the first half.

Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies rounded off the try scorers meaning seven out of the eight tries were scored by a Welshman.

The standout performers from a Lions point of view were Phillips, Cuthbert, O’Connell and Roberts while players such as Farrell, Vunipola and Maitland did very little to guarantee themselves a starting spot against Australia.

It was a solid start for the Lions but the conditions will be the least of their worries when they meet the Wallabies in a few weeks time.

British and Irish Lions 2013 Preview - 30/05/13

The 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia is only days away, will history repeat itself or will the Lions return to the isles covered in confetti?

The Lions visit Australia for the first time since 2001; a series the Wallabies won 2-1. The tour is best remembered for the breakthrough performances of Irish sensation Brian O’Driscoll.

O’Driscoll returns to Australia for his fourth tour having captained the side although briefly, during the 2005 tour of New Zealand. 

The Irish talisman was touted as a potential captain but Wales head coach and Lions boss Warren Gatland has appointed flanker Sam Warburton of Wales to lead the team.

Warburton is still only 24 years old and is one of the youngest tour captains of all time. In a competitive back-row Gatland has pinned his hopes on the young flanker meaning Sean O’Brien, Tom Croft, Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric will be fighting it out for the one remaining starting position. 

The front row positions are up for grabs with only one player locked in... Get it?

Adam Jones looks set to play tighthead prop after earning the trust of Gatland and his staff through stellar performances in this year’s Six Nations championship. Filling in at loosehead will be either Dan Cole of England or Cian Healy of Ireland. 

Adding competition to places will be Gethin Jenkins, Mako Vunipola and shock inclusion, Matt Stevens. Stevens had already retired from international rugby but forwards coach, Graham Rowntree had fought to include the prop.

Rory Best will look to impress the coaching staff after his late call-up following the dismissal of Dylan Hartley who is currently serving an 11-week ban for verbally abusing an official in the Aviva Premiership final.

In Best’s way is Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs, the Aviva Premiership player of the season and opponent of Hartley just last week.

Paul O’Connell is almost assured of his position at lock with Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones, Geoff Parling and Ritchie Gray competing to play alongside the Irishman.

At number eight Gatland could go with Toby Faletau who he has worked closely with at Wales or the man in form, Jamie Heaslip.

With the talent on offer in the flanker position and the limited places due to Warburton’s inevitable inclusion, some have suggested that Sean O’Brien could move to the back of the scrum. We’ll have to keep an eye on this particular battle.

Now to the all important fly-half position and controversially only two players have made the plane. Jonathan Sexton is the overwhelming favourite to start against the Wallabies whilst Owen Farrell is a firm second choice, with some questioning how he even made the tour.

Warren Gatland has made no secret of his attempts to lure the legendary figure of Johnny Wilkinson to Australia only for the Toulon man to politely decline his invitation. Stuart Hogg has been earmarked to kick should injuries cause an issue but the fullback is not renowned for his kicking.

Gatland will be hoping that this scenario doesn’t come back to bite him on the...

Feeding the fly halves will be Ben Youngs, Mike Phillips or Conor Murray. Phillips looks likely to get the nod with Youngs hot on his heels for a test place.

The centre battle will come down to the experience of O’Driscoll, the brute force of Manu Tuilagi, Six Nations winner Jonathan Davies and the defensive wall that is Jamie Roberts. 

O’Driscoll and Roberts formed a formidable partnership in 2007 in South Africa but the belief is Tuilagi will take the place of the Welsh doctor.

On the wings 2007 tourist Tommy Bowe is joined by George North, Alex Cuthbert and Sean Maitland. Bowe has been plagued by injury this season leaving the Welsh combination of North and Cuthbert as favourites to play in the first test.

Maitland is a surprise inclusion and is the cousin of enigmatic Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper, should Cooper make the Australian test squad, a family reunion could spark the adopted Scot into form.

Gatland has selected three fullbacks in the 37-man squad, Leigh Halfpenny of Wales, Rob Kearney of Ireland and the youngest member of the team, 20 year old Stuart Hogg of Scotland. 

Halfpenny is the standout option at the position but he will be pushed all the way by Kearney who is capable of performing very well down under himself.

My team to start versus Australia in the First Test:

         Cole – Best – Jones
         Parling – O’Connell
   Warburton – O’Brien – Croft


North – O’Driscoll – Tuilagi – Bowe


Barclays Premier League Roundup - 29/05/13

As one season comes to a close another one begins, yes silly season is well and truly upon us.

It’s that time of the year where clubs are linked with players you’ve never heard of and preseason predictions are as wide of the mark as a Fernando Torres attempt at goal.

Already suspicion is rife on the futures of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and managers such as ex-Wigan boss Roberto Martinez.

Starting with Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United forward has publically expressed his desire to leave Old Trafford after 9 years much to the sorrow of thousands of his fans.

It’s not out of the question he stays with the Premier League champions but going along with the idea that he is to depart, where will he end up?

Manchester City is a club capable of dealing with Rooney’s wage demands, as are Chelsea but I believe he will end up aboard if he is to leave. Paris Saint-Germain are favourites to land him with new Champions League winners, Bayern Munich just behind. 

If David Beckham remains in Paris is some fashion, then expect that to appeal to Rooney.

Now, Gareth Bale, what hasn’t been said about him recently? After cleaning up every award possible, Bale appears to be on his way out of White Hart Lane.

Should he stay, Tottenham will have to convince him that the Europa League is as good as the Champions League (it’s not) and they’ll need to break their own wage structure at the same time.

Where will he end up? Real Madrid is well placed to secure his signature and I would not rule out Manchester United who could possible see Bale as a replacement for Rooney.

Roberto Martinez is a sought after manager right now. Fresh from winning the FA Cup and err, relegation with Wigan Athletic, clubs are climbing over each other to secure the charismatic Spaniard.

In the Premiership alone Everton, Stoke City and Chelsea are on the lookout for a new manager with the Merseyside club at the front of the queue and a deal is expected soon.

Martinez has been noticed back in his homeland so be shocked but not too shocked should Real Madrid show some interest after Jose Mourinho departs for Chelsea as expected.

On Monday Crystal Palace secured the final place in next year’s Premier League with a Championship Playoff Final victory over Watford.

Ian Holloway, with the help of his predecessor Dougie Freedman has guided the London club to the big time with a squad that cost just a shade over £2 million and are now set for a £120 million windfall at the least.

Currently in a state of delirium after their success, reality will hit next season and it could hit very hard should they not invest in some new players. Already they are the favourites with the bookmakers to go down along with newly promoted rivals Hull City and Cardiff City.

For what it is worth, my prediction is that Chelsea will win the league with a top four of Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham. Yes, I believe David Moyes will have some teething problems but eventually turn it around, should he be given the time to do so.

Dropping out of the league will be Crystal Palace, Hull City and Norwich.

So there we have it, a summary of silly season so far and you can be sure it will continue until the big kick off on the 17th August 2013.