Five main talking points this weekend:
- England shocked by Wales at Twickenham. The incrimination has started in the English press. The chariot has stalled and covered in red after an exhilarating Welsh second half performance. I will put up my hand, wrote Wales off when Halfpenny and Webb succumbed to tournament ending injuries. Wales’ hero last night was Dan Biggar, what a game from the Ospreys stalwart, deadly accurate on the penalties but used his nous and experience to drive Wales on late on to shock England. Wales play Fiji on Thursday, a bonus win against the Pacific Islanders and suddenly England are then back into the corner without no way out. England must beat Australia next weekend or else the dream of a home World Cup win is left in tatters. What went so wrong for England? A comprehensive first half display which exposed Wales’ issues at the set piece (scrum was destroyed, lineout misfunctioning) should have seen England further ahead at the interval. Their sheer inability to not put teams away has being a theme since Lancaster took over the England job but last night it came home to roost. Wales won this match on a determined game plan, high work rate in tackles and breakdown area which resulted in England getting further and further frustrated as the game wore on. The English media can point to Robshaw and his decision to go for the line late in the game but the subsequent lineout call lacked the cohesion required to breakdown a resolute Wales defense. Owen Farrell went missing when England needed him most. The decision to replace Burgess was a clear mistake. How Brad Barritt continues to get in the England team is beyond me? Do England recall now Joseph or do they go for more of the same, conversative rugby. England lost the arm wrestle last night and the pressure is now excruciating ahead of the Australian clash. What more would the Australian enjoy but to dump England out of the RWC after England cricketers beat Australia in the Ashes? I was delighted that Wales won merely because of how ridiculous Owen Farrell’s penalty kick celebrations were during the contest. Wales got on with the job while England believed their own hype. It is amazing how one result can turn a press corp and England are now like a boxer after being down on the floor twice in a round, the fate blow should be only days away. Cue absolute murder in the English back pages if that takes place. Wales, guts and determination. The back row and half-back pairing stayed strong throughout despite England controlling the set piece affairs. Gatland must recall Hibbert in the squad if only for his precise lineout throwing ability. Baldwin struggled to find his jumpers last night and the scrum was shambolic. A couple of injuries to contend with but Wales are exhibiting resilience galore. Gatland’s finest coaching triumph? It has to be up there. Biggar should not have to buy another drink in Swansea after that performance over the arch enemy.
- Australia and Ireland record comprehensive wins: Both teams know serious tests lie in wait but their first two games have caught the eye. Australia enjoyed the fast Villa Park track to record a facile 65-3 win over Uruguay who were exposed defensively throughout due to impressive Australian clean out work at rucks and the mercurial Quade Cooper controlling the game from half-back. There are still questions on the front five, soon to be answered next weekend but their ball handling ability is on a par with New Zealand. The speed of thought and decision making from the back line today was excellent. Chieka’s team is building serious momentum. England need to test the front five in the scrum and challenge in the lineout. England can only beat Australia if they decide to take the game to the trenches. It is a no contest frankly if England decide to go gun oh and take on Australia in an expansive shoot-out. There is only one winner with the likes of Folau lying in wait for turnovers. Cooper today showed great skills, creating space for his three quarters. Yes, there was a sin bin – high tackle but it showed the South Americans that Cooper would be no soft touch. Impressive cameo and they look forward to the England clash. Ireland recorded another comprehensive win over a gallant hard working Romania team 45-10. Ireland’s main positives were the back three. Zebo, Earls and Bowe when presented with ball from Madigan was a joy to watch. They dominated in all facets of play. Bowe’s expertly taken try set Ireland on their way and Earls ability to create a try out of nothing was further enhanced by two quality scores either side of half-time. Madigan at ten was good, game managed when required and his ability to create space for colleagues with or without the ball was a joy to watch at times. Ireland enter the Italian with a key question yet to be answered. Who will be the three quarters combination? Payne is doing little in creating any attacking threat. His defensive work is impressive but thirteen should be calling the shots in terms of attacking play. Payne reneged on a lot of attacking responsibility today, it was left to Reddan and Madigan to orchestrate Ireland. Henshaw’s fitness is a concern. Ireland management can say the word “precautionary” but the Connacht player has not yet featured in an Ireland RWC contest yet. It is going to be a tough ask for the player to get into RWC tempo required. Ireland should not fear Italy. The focus should be performance. Italy’s underwhelming performances will not improve significantly in seven days but with Parisse’s star quality, Ireland need to have a plan to nullify his threat. Ten points from the pool minnows, good start but still plenty to work on.
- Cork Ladies Footballers: Ten All Ireland’s in eleven years, two five in a rows is a testament to all concerned with Cork Ladies football. Rena Buckley and Breige Corkery’s All Ireland medal haul would rival anything in the men’s game. Thrilling win over Dublin today (0-12 to 0-10) and was a good advertisement for the women’s game. Hopefully the Irish media laud praise on this team in the weeks and months to come.
- Limerick SHC – Adare Sunday stroll and Kilmallock dethroned: I was in the Gaelic Grounds today to witness the dethroning of county and Munster SHC kingpins Kilmallock by Na Piarsaigh and a quite facile victory for Adare over a hugely disappointing Ahane outfit. Adare and Ahane started the action at 2pm at Limerick Hurling Headquarters. There was plenty a miss at the venue as the electronic scoreboard and timer were out of action, some neutrals may have added Ahane to that sentence such was the display produced. Adare were by far the better side, dominant in most lines. The West Limerick outfit’s star performer was Willie Griffin, the full forward must have thought Christmas had arrived early as spaces was afforded throughout by Ahane whose tactics were naive at best. With Mike Carr tracking Declan Hannan throughout, space was created for Griffin inside to exploit and did he punish the inability of Ahane to deploy a sweeper in the half back line? The full forward hit four points from play in the opening thirty minutes as the Ahane full back line was being worked to exhaustion. With no genuine threat upfront apart from John Fox who scored a fine individual goal after two minutes, Ahane lacked any cutting edge throughout and were frankly on the back foot throughout. When Mike Mackey struck for Adare just after the interval, the contest was killed off. Adare cruised in the final quarter of the contest and Ahane scored 1-4 late on to add some respectability to the scoreline. Adare’s star performers were Willie Griffin, John Fitzgibbon and Jody Hannan. Ahane’s top performers (I say that loosely) were Jonathan Hayes, John Fox and Seamus Hartnett who never gave up throughout. Ahane exit the championship in most disappointing style. There was no fight in the side for long periods, tactically were inept and the basic skills were executed in woeful fashion. You wonder where the senior team goes if loyal club servants like Niall Moran, John and Brian Meskell decided to call it a day. The young kids on the block in the side lack physicality (work in progress) and it is a concern. Ahane can have little complaints with the result. Seven points loss was kind to them. Adare gain momentum ahead of their clash with local neighbours Patrickswell next weekend, it will be a cracker. The second game was Na Piarsaigh and Kilmallock. The game was a far better contest than the curtain raiser but first touch was poor at times. The Gaelic Grounds pitch looked a bit long, not cut in a while and both teams suffered. Na Piarsaigh fronted by their county contingent strode out to a five point lead at half-time. Dempsey, Dowling and Peter Casey catching the eye in attack. Kilmallock struggled to get into the game until the late on in the second when they were seven points down (0-19 to 1-9). Maybe Kilmallock played a bit more abandon or Na Piarsaigh tensed up at the end? Whatever it was, it setup an intriguing conclusion. Kilmallock brought physicality into their play in the last ten minutes of this contest to the extent that Na Piarsaigh’s manager Shane O’Neill did not agree with and subsequently was sent to the stands – foul and abusive language to the match officials (some it probably merited). Hanley’s bundled goal two minutes into injury time left only the bare minimum between the sides and then came the late drama. Kilmallock were awarded a late 65 but Jake Mulcahy hit the free wide and cue the end of the game. Na Piarsaigh should never have being in that position, they were by far the better side throughout. David and Aidan Breen were prominent throughout but it was Peter Casey’s cameo that caught the eye. The minor and U21 player is a star of the future for Limerick, comfortable with the ball, good first touch and eye for a score. Casey’s afternoon was ended after a finger injury, question mark over his final appearance will ensue. A decent second game but it was not a day that the hurling county board can be proud of. A pitch which was clearly not prepared, faulty equipment, refereeing performances which were at best average — things have to better than this.
- EPL: Manchester United top of the league. Amazing statement when you consider City’s start to the season. Tottenham’s 4-1 win over City was the surprise of the weekend but spoke volumes of City’s dependency on Hart, Kompany and Silva. All three players are vital cogs in the City side and their omissions were key to this loss. De Bruyne may have scored three goals in three games but is he really 50 million plus player? Caballero will resume his bench warming duties. City have made the league interesting again. United were the only team to take advantage, brushing aside the challenge of Sunderland 3-0. Martial continues to catch the eye. Chelsea’s season continues to uninspire. Newcastle’s surrender of a two goal lead should not let Chelsea off the hook. They were ponderous throughout and the absence of Costa is glaring. Pedro’s lack of defensive nous is causing Ivanovic massive headaches. Zouma and Cahill as a centre back pairing looks mediocre at best. The Special One has problems, caps a miserable week for Chelsea. Eva looking for a new football club to attend to? Tottenham or Arsenal should offer her a job just to provoke Mourinho even more. Liverpool win against Aston Villa 3-2. Rodgers safe for another week until Klopp is spotted in Morecambe looking at holiday homes? Bournemouth look doomed if Wilson’s injury is long term. A league which flattered to deceive. Fantasy football league has gone a bit Pete Tong. Arsenal’s 5-2 win away to Leicester could be pivotal for both team. Arsenal should move up the table while Leicester’s inability to keep a clean sheet will mean that they are down in mid table obscurity by November.