RBS 6 Nations Preview: England vs Ireland, Twickenham, 16:00, Saturday
With Wales becoming derailed and France still unconvincing, this could be the game that decides the championship, and even without that this promises to be fascinating.
The Ireland pack that pushed their Welsh counterparts around like a septic tank of wheels in Dublin will not find the England eight to be so obliging. England may not be able to pass or create much, but mauling comes as natural to them as talking utter bollocks to John Inverdale. Likewise, the English lineout won't be as easily snaffled, at least not until Tom Youngs comes on with his arm like a spooked chipmunk.
With such evenly matched packs, then it will come down to control at half back and in this Ireland are ahead.
Farrell has been taking baby steps in his journey to being a top flight 10, but Sexton, after a shaky start at Racing, seems to have finally arrived there, adding some lovely territorial kick consistency to his craft and incision. This, the experience in the Irish backs and that they look more likely to score tries means that a close win for the visitors beckons.
B&M Prediction: Ireland by 6
Spotter's Badge: After going 6-0 up after nine minutes, Peter O'Mahoney wins the game for Ireland by filibustering the ref for the 71 minutes remaining, only stopping speaking in time for the ref to blow up.
England: Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, David Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (captain), Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, George Ford, Alex Goode
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Dave Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell (captain), Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Paddy Jackson, Fergus McFadden
RBS 6 Nations Preview: Ireland vs Wales, Uvavu Stadium, Sat 14:30
There have been many epic rivalries in history; Wellington vs Napoleon, Tom Jones vs decency, Ronan O'Gara vs this blog, Stuart Barnes vs all rugby fans with ears and a brain. But, it is these supposed Celtic cousins that have become the new head to head that enthralls the 6 Nations with their quite obvious utter contempt for one another. Sure, they're friends on Lions tours and the like, but put them back in their national jerseys and they would happily feed the other to a lion and then let said lion crap all over their hotel room and/or team bus.
Wales come into this with a less than convincing performance against a plucky Italy, while Ireland return home again after a third gear demolition of a Scotland team whose forwards played like they were on qualuudes. In short, it's hard to pick the game on form.
Wales have Sam back in the ranks to bring his much vaunted "jackal" to the backline, which Tipuric, for all his strengths, does not have so much. Much will depend on whether Dan Lydiate can shut out Peter O'Mahoney, who had a strong game last week, because if Lydiate can do that, then I would back Sam to best Henry, and Faletau is simply better than Heaslip.
The big weakness for Wales is at 10, with the half-functioning Priestland retained despite the fact that it's going to waz it down with rain and blow a gale and so a territorial game, much more suited to Dan Biggar, should be the order of the day. But, it's clear that Gatland loves Rhys more than Cadbury's Creme Eggs, so he's in and that's that.
The teams are evenly matched all over the field, and perhaps the biggest battle of all those around the park with be Adam Jones vs Cian Healy. Whoever wins that wins penalties, and speaking of penalties..
Given the conditions, this will not be a big scoring game, and Jonny Sexton is far more likely to implode off the tee than Halfpenny is and that is what it will all come down to.
B&M Prediction: Wales by 5
Spotter's Badge: Mike Phillips accuses Conor Murray of spilling his pint; Murray thinks Phillips said "you look a sight", Murray tells Phillips "You're in my fucking pocket", Phillips thinks Murray said, "Do you fancy a Locket?", Phillips is penalised for delaying the put-in while he tries to figure out if he's being insulted.
Ireland : 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Andrew Trimble, 13-Brian O'Driscoll, 12-Gordon D'Arcy, 11-Dave Kearney, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 1-Cian Healy, 2-Rory Best, 3-Mike Ross, 4-Devin Toner, 5-Paul O'Connell, 6-Peter O'Mahony, 7-Chris Henry, 8-Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Jack McGrath, 18-Martin Moore, 19-Dan Tuohy, 20-Tommy O'Donnell, 21-Isaac Boss, 22-Paddy Jackson, 23-Fergus McFadden
Wales : 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Scott Williams, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-George North, 10-Rhys Priestland, 9-Mike Phillips; 1-Gethin Jenkins, 2-Richard Hibbard, 3-Adam Jones, 4-Andrew Coombs, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 6-Dan Lydiate, 7-Sam Warburton, 8-Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16-Ken Owens, 17-Paul James -, 18-Rhodri Jones, 19-Jake Ball, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Rhys Webb, 22-James Hook, 23-Liam Williams
RBS 6 Nations Preview: Ireland
Ireland come into this year's RBS 6 Nations off the back of an an Autumn series that saw them unspectacularly beat Samoa, put in the worst Irish performance since Jedward versus the Wallabies, then earn some redemption with a barnstorming showing vs the Kiwis. In fact, the performance was so good it's easy to forget that they lost.
Ireland fans will be hoping that the heart and moxie shown in that All Blacks battle can be directed to a consistent gameplan that wins by Joe Schmidt, and if anyone can do it the all-conquering Leinster coach can. Or at least, if he can't then who else could?
The return of the talismanic Paul O'Connell to full, rampaging form is a plus, but Sean O'Brien is out and there are worries about the fitness of Johnny Sexton. However, Madigan's showing for the Wolfhounds should ease the anxiety of the coach if he decides the Racing man isn't ready for a full outing.
Ideally, Ireland will want the exact opposite of what happened last year, when a decent first 40 against Wales was followed by a slow, grinding descent into misery, misanthropy and Ronan O'Fucking Gara. At least the last thing can't happen this time, eh?
We must be up to Ireland Transitional Phase Version 4.8 by now, and because of this they have too little tested cover in too many key positions to win this time around, but top half is likely.
B&M Prediction: 3rd
One To Watch: Brian O'Driscoll - and up and coming young Leinster centre who may or may not actually be Jesus.
What Will Keith Wood Say? "Despite being 15 points down, I think Ireland are on top in many ways"
SHIT/GOOD™ Ratings: Autumn Internationals, week four
Due to being away in London watching The Dark Side (rugby league), the computer has only just caught up on all the action from the weekend, so here are the slightly late ratings. Give us yours in the comments, or if you're Irish, just punch your keyboard in sheer horror and frustration.
Jonny Sexton - The margins at the very top are fine, sometimes as fine as a width of a post, as the Ireland fly-half discovered in the last five minutes vs New Zealand. No matter how well he may have played leading up to that kick he absolutely should have nailed that; there are no excuses for missing and it is absolutely right that he is judged on it. However, unlike Cruden a few minutes later, he did only get one go at it.
Wales vs Tonga - There are men who spent years in Japanese POW camps who couldn't take the torture that was second half of this game.
Sean Lamont - Scotland's inability to cross the whitewash is becoming so overwhelming there is a real chance that the whole squad may have some kind of mental disorder. Either that or they've all shagged a witch to give them such bad luck. However, it's more likely that they all keep cocking up scoring chances like Sean did. Why a lad his size didn't just put his head down and smash over is mystery. Also struggles with having all the pace of a 1989 Ford Transit.
James Hook - Why will they not be told? If history has taught us anything it's that James Hook is not as good as anyone thinks he is. It was worth giving him a run at 10 vs Tonga, but all it has demonstrated is that Wales's options here are limited to Biggar (decent but limited), Priestland (broken brain), and Hook (SHIT). Time for Patchell? Also, is Jason Tovey staying fit long enough to fulfill his potential yet?
Conor Murray - This blog has been critical of the Irish nine previously, and no doubt it will again because that's kinda what this blog does really, but credit to him for the performance on Saturday. Stood out in a team of standouts.
Luke Charteris - Even dropping the ball over the line couldn't take away from a very good performance. Also, remember, it wasn't long ago that he looked like a horse doing a cartwheel when on a rugby field, so it's good to see his transformation into a top player is permanent.
Nigel Owens - Has his faults as a ref. Has a novel way of dealing with the complexities of the breakdown, namely by ignoring them and letting the game flow, which tends to make for good matches, so fair play. Also, "this is not soccer"
Samson Lee - "Samson Lee, Samson Lee, his hair's the colour of morning pee!" Bow down before your master.
Sean O'Brien - Out-barnstormed Kieran Read. Nothing more needs to be said.
It's not just England with the foul change kit: A Restrospective of SHIT, Part Deux
Some would say we were a little one sided with our slagging of the England change strips, and they'd be right. Look at some other horrors that have surfaced in recent years.
Exclusive! Ronan O'Fucking Gara tackle chart for his first coaching session at Racing
Should rugby games have a minute's silence for Margaret Thatcher?
bloodandmud.com's candidates for the Ireland job
Declan Kidney is gone and the IRFU are on the look out for a new head coach for the national team; a coach that can implement what is now surely the Ireland Transitional Period v3.0, the latest iteration in a soul-splinteringly long process. Here are this blog's obviously very serious suggestions.
Jeremy Davidson - Has a coaching CV more repellant to recruiters than one written in Comic Sans. However, Jeremy went from being a "meh" selection to Player of the Tour in 1997 Lions, so past form is nothing when it comes to what he can achieve. Also has a kindly face, speaks French and could wear Buzz Lightyear costume at press conferences to raise a nostalgic, Lions documentary laugh.
Martin Johnson - Won't stand on ceremony, literally. Face and attitude to serve as antidote to Kidney's friendly approach of smiling a lot of the time if IRFU want a change in PR. Crushing inevitability of his first selection being more moribund than an undertaker's 'to do' list if they'd prefer to maintain Declan's conservative transition approach. Outside chance of dwarf-throwing.
Mike Ruddock - Decent CV and chances of success; but this is likely to be followed by Jamie Heaslip ranting at George Hook on the TV in a dodgy brown leather jacket.
Trevor Brennan - Playing experience at home and abroad, has also run a bar for years so is well versed in people management. All of which he will ignore when he chins every single person in the squad and press within one hour of his appointment.
Ronan O'Fucking Gara - National treasure reaching the end of his playing career, already knows the squad, and most importantly will provide a rich seam of material for the likes of this blog. Just think, as a coach he could perfect his "banana cross-kick chip" tactic in the defensive 22; pioneer the "anti-blitz" defence, based mostly on falling over; and spend every press conference in a self-righteous, purple-faced funk. A shoo-in.
RBS 6 Nations 2013: GOOD Team Of The Tournament
1. Thomas Domingo - There was very little that was GOOD about France this year. Ironically one of the things that was GOOD was the little prop.
2. Richard Hibbard - Looks like an extra from Geordie Shore, but Wales have uncovered another tangerine gem here. Let's hope he doesn't go the way of the previous one
3. Adam Jones - You run out of superlatives with this fella. Hard to imagine this was the bloke who, ten years ago in the Steve Hansen days, played the first 20 minutes before being hauled off looking like a truck driver jogging wheezily towards a transport cafe. He's now more like the truck than the driver. A truck fueled with bionic piss.
4. Joe Launchbury - Lost the physical battle in Cardiff, but other than that a fine tournament for a 21-year-old with great promise. Good name as well.
5. Ian Evans - Another year, another momentous performance. Hard as nails.
6. Alessandro Zanni - Eclipsed Parrisse in the Italian back row. Performed with class, endeavour, strength and nous every week.
7. Justin Tipuric - It was a good tournament for sevens and the likes of Robshaw, Brown and even Sean O'Brien were in with a shout; but Tipuric is in because I like a seven to be a seven, and in this regard he excelled. Pacey, good at breakdown, made 42 tackles with a 96% success ratio and showed in Cardiff the craft that some centres dream of. Big nose, though.
8. Louis Picamoles - Second in the metres gained figures for the tournament, carrying for 351 metres, and the only forward in the top five. This achievement is all the more GOOD when you consider that the rest of the top five were all outside backs who get open pasture to run into on kick returns - Picamoles carried as far as them while smashing people out of the way.
9. Mike Phillips - Gets some stick for the speed of his service, but the rest of his game is good enough to forgive that.
10. Dan Biggar - the quiet achiever of the tournament. Helped by not having to place kick, but slotted one in Cardiff vs England just to take the piss.
11. George North - Decisive try in Paris, huge presence in other games.
12. Wesley Fofana - Most talented centre in the tournament, when finally allowed to play there of course. It could've been Jamie Roberts in here as well, to be honest, he seems to have found his mojo in the bottom of an old training bag.
13. Brian O'Driscoll - Horrible tournament for Ireland, but was his usual brilliant best and gets in a ahead of others because of the pass for Zebo's try in Cardiff alone.
14. Tim Visser - Tough call between him and Cuthbert, but I like the Scot's all-round game more.
15. Leigh Halfpenny - The player of the tournament. Outstanding since his move to fullback last year keeps getting better, culminating in this peerless performance. Anyone suggesting that Kearney should get the Lions shirt is either lying, blind or mad.
RBS 6 Nations 2013: SHIT Team Of The Tournament
1. Joe Marler - About as convincing as Danny Glover in a Gary Busey lookalike competition.
2. Dimitri Szarzewski - Not only had a poor tournament rugby-wise, but was also outgunned in the blonde locks department by Richard Hibbard.
3. Euan Murray - Even with God on his side he ain't very good.
4. Donncha O'Callaghan - Poor cameo in a poor tournament. Can't see him playing many more times in the emaerald jersey.
5. Richie Gray - Playing in the cess pool of SHIT that is the present form of the Sale team can't help, but his pre-injury form was not great.
6. James Haskell - Pioneering the role of the reverse-impact sub, and because it's the rules.
7. Thierry Dusautoir - To be honest, no sevens had a truly awful tournament, so Dusautoir is in for the being the worst of pretty decent bunch. BUt that still puts him in the SHIT category, because this rating system is as cruel as it is arbitrary.
8. Jamie Heaslip - Magnificent failure in his debut tournament as captain. Poor both individually and as a leader.
9. Maxime Machenaud - 1) He isn't Morgan Parra. 2) He's shite as well.
10. Freddy Michalak - All the talent in the world, unfortunately alloyed with the temperament of pigeon thrown amongst a shitload of cats
11. Benjamin Fall - Crap.
12. Brad Barritt - Not interested in talk about his bravery and organising, I want a 12 who can actually play rugby with the ball at international level.
13. Mathieu Bastareaud - It's no good being big and strong if you keep dropping the ball, and if you keep getting smashed on the gainline thus nullifying your big and strongness as well.
14. Chris Ashton - I still maintain, albeit as part of an ever dwindling number of people, that his actual play in the actual position he is meant to play in is not as bad as everyone makes out and that any winger would struggle to look GOOD outside this England midfield. His downfall is his defence, which he seems to be wilfully getting worse at, and his inability not to be a gigantic gobshite of a bellend all over the park when he should be concentrating on his bloody job.
15. Yoann Huget - Play as inexplicable as his hirsuteness.