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#LionsNZ2017 – Epic Series RoundUp

2017 saw the return of the British and Irish Lions to New Zealand after 12 years to face rugby’s World Champions. Statistically, the Lions have a poor record against the All Blacks, having only won against them way back in 1971. Indeed, the last time the Lions faced New Zealand (in 2005), they suffered a humiliating whitewash, with the All Blacks winning all three matches. 

It was always going to be a challenging tour for the visitors, and the Lions were pretty much written off from the start.

But what a tour it turned out to be, with the Lions exceeding everyone’s expectations! And of course, your favourite gingerbreads were there (not actually on tour, sadly) to document the series’ progress…

Overview

The tour consisted of 10 matches, including the three tests vs the All Blacks, five against New Zealand’s Super Rugby giants, one vs the NZ Provincial Barbarians and one vs the Maori All Blacks. 


Warm-up Matches

As those of you familiar with the Lions format, the team faces a number of local opponents by way of a warm up for the three test matches. This year saw matches against the Provincial Barbarians, the Maori All Blacks and all of the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.

NZ Provincial Barbarians & the Maori All Blacks

#BARvBIL (3rd June, Toll Stadium, Okara Park)

#MABvBIL (17th June, Rotorua International Stadium)

Super Rugby

#BLUvBIL (7th June, Eden Park)

#CRUvBIL (10th June, AMI Stadium)

#HIGvBIL (13th June, Forsyth Barr Stadium)

#CHIvBIL (20th June, FMG Stadium)

#HURvBIL (27th June, Westpac Stadium)

The final franchise game led to the biggest controversy of the tour, with Gatland selecting the “Geographical Six” (Tomas Francis, Gareth Davies, Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill, Finn Russell and Scot Allen Dell) to the squad.  

A huge furore ensued, with pundits and fans alike challenging the selection of players on the basis of location rather than form.  No doubt, the likes of Launchbury, Brown et al, were livid at being overlooked for such a coveted opportunity.  In the end, however, Gatland decided not to use them, with only Finn Russell coming onto the field for a short period of play.


Test Matches

Test 1 – #NZLvBIL (24th June, Eden Park)

After a mixed bag of performances during the warm up games, the the initial concerns about the Lions’ chances for #LionsNZ2017 seemed to be justified, as the first match saw the All Blacks easily take the lead.

Test 2 – #NZLvBIL (1stJuly, Westpac Stadium)

The second test proved to be the turning point for the Lions, as a red card awarded to golden boy, Sonny Bill Williams, gave the Lions a decisive advantage, which facilitated the marginal win over the All Blacks.

Final Test – #NZLvBIL (8th July, Eden Park)

We now had a series decider on our hands, as the Lions found themselves back at Eden Park with all to play for.  

It wasn’t the fairy tale ending we’d all hoped for for the Lions, however, with the match ending in a frustrating and nail biting draw.  But after the initial disappointment that came with the final whistle subsided, the realisation that the Lions had managed to secure a series draw certainly eased the pain.  The Lions had achieved the seemingly impossible task of forcing the All Blacks to share the series trophy with the visiting pride.  

There will, of course, questions as to whether or not the series should introduce extra time play, but we must remember that this is a rare occurrence.  The last series draw happened in 1955 vs South Africa, meaning there have only been two since the tournament’s inception in 1888.  


Conclusion

There is something quite fitting perhaps in seeing these two teams making up the series “winners” photograph.  Seeing two giants of the game sharing and celebrating together with such unity should be an inspiration to all sports and epitomises why we all love the game.  

This is, after all, what rugby is all about.


(Picture credit The Guardian)

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#RBS6Nations 2017 Round 4 round up

#WALvIRE FT22-9
The Friday night lights of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium were blazing and the roar of the Celtic crowd resounded deafeningly within the closed roof of the stadium as Wales took on the mighty Irish to kick off the penultimate weekend in the RBS 6 Nations. 

A win for Ireland would have seen them face England in the final weekend for a tournament title decider, but Wales had other plans. 

The encounter was ferocious in its intensity, and put aside distant memories of the dismal surrender in Murrayfield, with Howley vindicated and marvellous George North’s past brilliance on show once again.  

The victory was no doubt crucial for Wales: we may now see a few more red shirts in Gatland’s Lions squad in the Summer, but more importantly, the win guarantees that there will be no pool of death for the upcoming RWC2019 in Japan, as Wales will sit comfortably within the confines of the top 8 world ranking standings. 

It was also a great pleasure to meet the Wales and Lions legend, Colin Charvis at our works pre-game festivities.  Colin’s anecdotes of life before regional rugby were particularly interesting and amusing!  Those were the good old days!  Thank you for joining us and for being a sport with my (somewhat unusual and rather nerdy) request for a photo with the SixBiscuit representatives:) 


#ITAvFRA FT18-40

After a promising start for the Azzurri, with the opening try coming courtesy of the legendary Sergio Parisse after a good run by Carlo Canna, the French composed themselves to outwit and out manoeuvre the Italians to secure a convincing win.  The Italians’ obvious failings from a tackling perspective (with less than a 50% success rate) could not be ignored, and the performance demonstrated how much further O’Shea’s side has to go before they can be a genuine competitor for the title. 

Having said this, whilst talk across Europe is on how Georgia should be welcomed to the fold, let’s not forget that it took France 10 years to secure their first Five Nations win, and 50 to secure their first championship.  There shouldn’t be a rush to write off the Italians quite yet…

#ENGvSCO FT61-21

No one could have expected the catastrophic manner by which the Scots capitulated the Calcutta Cup to the English on Saturday afternoon.  The pre-match high hopes of ending a 34 year Twickenham drought for the Scots were ill-placed, the England victory emphatically engineered.  It was stuff nightmares are made of for Scotland, losing four key players to injury, but fortunate that Fraser Brown was not shown the red card he arguably deserved.

Man of the Match Jonathan Joseph delighted fans with his hat-trick, and the scoreboard continued to spiral upwards by virtue of the boots of Owen Farrell. 

Only Ireland stand in England’s way to secure the tournament’s Grand Slam accolade.  No team has won back-to-back Grand Slams since the reign of Will Carling back in the nineties, and an England win will also see them overtake New Zealand in the test match win rate record.  Whilst Ireland will be keen to rain on England’s parade, England head to the Aviva stadium with a new found confidence that will surely catapult them to Six Nations glory. 

Let the Super Saturday Count Down Commence!!

Although England have already won the title with a week to spare, next Saturday’s Super Saturday should be as thrilling as ever…

12:30 #SCOvITA (Murrayfield) BBC

15:45 #FRAvWAL (Stade de France) BBC

17:00 #IREvENG (Aviva) ITV

#GingerBreadOfHeaven

#RBS6Nations 2017 Round 3 round up

#SCOvWAL FT29-13
It was a momentous day for the Scots, as they won their first game against Wales for a decade. The win also sets the scene for a long-awaited Triple Crown showdown at HQ on the 11th March. Scotland’s form, whilst still far from the finished article, shows a new confidence and energy that has eluded the team since it last won the Five Nations in 1999.  

Wales took a marginal lead at half time, but Scotland’s ingenuity and high spiritedness overwhelmed Wales in the second half, dominating possession and keeping Wales firmly off the scoreboard.  Man of the Match, Finn Russell, kicked meticulously and Barclay stepped into Laidlaw’s captaincy boots with decisive impact. 

It was not a good day for Welsh rugby, with the result likely to lead to a slip in World Rugby rankings which will determine Rugby World Cup 2019’s pool group draws. And we all know how that turned out last time this happened…

Wales will have to make some bold selection changes if they are to have any chance of a win against Ireland in a fortnight’s time. 
#IREvFRA FT19-9

France kicked off the match against the Irish with a fabulously French flourish, but it wasn’t long until fatigue took hold, leaving Ireland to assume control of the match. Conor Murray put in a Man of the Match performance, and the Irish certainly benefited from the return of talisman Sexton. 

The win keeps Ireland’s dreams of a tournament title alive, and a victory in Cardiff next round would set the platform for a classic clash against Grand Slam seekers, England. 

#ENGvITA FT35-16

It proved an interesting game at Twickenham on Sunday, and “ruck-gate” was the name of the game. Italy’s cunning, yet controversial, tactic of not committing to the breakdown (thus allowing Italians to be legally offside and disrupting England’s attacking options) left the hosts dazed and confused for the opening minutes of the game, forcing Haskell and Hartley to seek unprecedented rule book clarification from match referee, Romain Poite. It was a bizarre spectacle for us home viewers, and pundits were divided on whether O’Shea should be applauded or reprimanded. Eddie Jones was livid, condeming the Italians of not playing rugby.  

Despite Italy’s mischievous half time lead, England composed themselves for a fight back, scoring 5 tries after the break, securing the critical try bonus point against the Azzuri visitors.  

Whatever your views, the game play certainly avoided a score sheet wipeout and there is no argument that Italy had to try something to justify their ongoing presence in the tournament. 

The men in white could finally breathe a sign of relief: their winning streak remains in tact with only Scotland and Ireland standing in their way to Grand Slam glory. 

RBS6Nations Table Round 3

1. England 13pts

2. Ireland 10pts

3. Scotland 9pts

4. Wales 5pts

5. France 5pts 

6. Italy 0pts 

It’s another break next weekend, but RBS6Nations action kicks off again on the 10th March as Wales host Ireland in Cardiff!

#GingerBreadOfHeaven

#RBS6Nations 2017 #Round2 round up 

Sad times.  England beat Wales at the Principality Stadium 16-21.  Enough said.

#ITAvIRE #WALvENG #FRAvSCO

“The relationship between the Welsh and the English is based on trust and understanding.  They don’t trust us and we don’t understand them.”- (Dudley Wood, English RFU secretary on Anglo-Welsh relations, 1986)

There is nothing in rugby quite like the Wales v England fixture.

Since 1881, the two neighbouring nations have continued to redress historical rivalry out on the pitch. 

During this time, the teams have met on 129 occasions with England leading the win rate at 60 games to 57.  Twelve matches have resulted in a draw. But let’s take a closer look at the results for the Six Nations tournament specifically…

As a Wales fan, one of the highlights of recent times was the win against the English at the Millennium Stadium in 2013, where Wales secured an extraordinary win against their nemeses, defeating the English with a record breaking margin (30-3).  Good times:)Other than “that” game in Twickenham back in September 2015 (#RWC2015 pool game), Wales have failed to beat England in a Six Nations match since 2013.  Here’s to hoping Howley’s men can force the English to capitulate once again… 

May the best biscuit win!

Houston, we have ourselves a Super Bowl! #SB51

It will go down in history as one of the best Super Bowls EVER!  But it didn’t start off like that…

After a slow start, SB51 witnessed the Atlanta Falcons dominate the scoreboard in the first half three, ending the third ahead with a staggering 25 point lead against the New England Patriots.  It looked like the Lombardi Trophy was finally destined for Atlanta, as their man to man coverage in defence was nothing but relentless.  Brady’s usual finesse, however, was notably elusive. 

But the tides turned in the final fifteen as Brady and Bill Belichick masterminded the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, chipping away methodically at Atlanta’s seemingly impenetrable lead.  With minutes to go, the Patriots secured a two point conversion to level the game, forcing it into over time, marking yet another Super Bowl first, and concluding the collapse of the fatigued Falcons. 

And so the Championship title would be decided by the rules of sudden death, and with the coin toss won, the Patriots were primed to continue their driving advance to claim their unprecedented victory. 

This extraordinary outcome saw Tom Brady proclaimed Super Bowl MVP, cementing his place in the history books as the only QB to win five Super Bowl rings. A remarkable journey of redemption, perhaps, but the question on everyone’s mind is what now for Brady, for there are no more football worlds for him to conquer. 

The Pepsi half time show also ranked as one of the best, totally living up to the theatricality of the event. Lady Gaga wowed the crowd with a subtlety subversive medley of her greatest hits, her drone filled, pyrotechnics performance sending messages of unity and acceptance to a divided nation. 

Super Bowl 52 – you will need to something incredible to top this one! 

#RBS6Nations 2017 #Round1 round up 

It was another exhilarating first round of the RBS6Nations! 

#SCOvIRE FT27-22

It kicked off with what turned out to be a classic Celtic clash at BT Murrayfield, with Scotland’s electric start leaving Ireland temporarily stunned. Despite a ferocious fight back by the Irish, Scotland survived, leaving Ireland with only a losing bonus point as consolation. Hogg was sensational, and the Scots will be looking to utilise this newly discovered momentum as they progress through the tournament. 

#ENGvFRA FT19-16

It was another close contest at Twickenham as England hosted France for their opener, and the French took an early lead and threatened England’s hopes of securing a second consecutive Grand Slam. But Te’o’s substitution proved decisive, giving England its record 15th back-to-back win. 

#ITAvWAL FT7-33

After a fierce first half Azzuri performance, Italy crumbled in the second to give Wales their first win of the championship. Although narrowly missing out on one of the tournament’s bonus points, Wales find themselves sitting at the top of the RBS6Nations table. However, Wales will have to play with far more conviction next week if they have any hope of taking on the English at the Principality a Stadium next weekend. 

RBS6Nations Table Round1

1. Wales 4pts

2. Scotland 4pts

3. England 4pts 

4. France 1 pt

5. Ireland 1pt

6. Italy 0pts 

Biscuits, Brexit and Bonus Points – Six Nations 2017 Beckons!

It will be the first tournament played since “that” vote back in June, and whether you were the 48% or the 52%, the exhilaration and thrill that comes with this legendary championship will keep us all blissfully distracted from Brexit madness for the next 6 weeks.

There seems to be very few parts of our lives that will not be impacted by Brexit, and the Six Nations tournament will certainly not escape unscathed. The abandonment of free movement as we know it will inevitably affect travelling fans and players alike.  

However, there is comfort in knowing that this oldest of all tournaments has survived for 130 years, witnessing great tides of change across the Continent during this period, and only ever changing for the better. Thankfully, history reassures us that the Six Nations is sure to be with us for some many years to come. What the real and actual consequences of Brexit will be for our favourite tournament who knows, and indeed, for the next 25 games at least, who cares – that is a concern for another day. 

Bonus point trial

The 2017 season will see the introduction of a new points system. The previous system awarded two points for a win, one for a draw and zero for a loss. This will now change, so that match winners can now claim up to 5 points, as the new four point for a win allocation can be supplemented by an additional point if they score 4 or more tries.   A draw will attract 2 points, with an additional point available under the 4 tries point.  For losing Unions, the position is changed considerably, as instead of a maximum zero score, a loser could find themselves with up to 2 bonus points, if they score 4 tries or more and lose by a margin of fewer than 7 points.

To avoid the mathematical nonsense of seeing a Union winning all 5 games and losing the Championship to a team who may only have won four games, but secured a handful of bonus points, the powers that be have introduced a Quidditch style bonus award of 3 points for the Union that secures the coveted Grand Slam. 

This trial hopes to promote a more attacking style of play and to make the match result a far more important influence on where each team ends up sitting on the leader board at the close of Super Saturday. 

And so the 6 Biscuits are poised, all set for another epic Championship…

First up at 14.25pm sees Scotland defending BT Murrayfield against the mighty Irish-All Blacks-slayers (#SCOvIRE), with current Champs, England, looking to increase their record match-win-run-rate (standing at 14 back-to-back wins) against France at HQ at 16:50pm (#ENGvFRA). The final game of the opening weekend is on Sunday, as Wales will be hoping for a good win against Italy in Rome at 14:00pm (#ITAvWAL). 

Let’s get ready to C-R-U-M-B-L-E!!!!!


#GingerBreadOfHeaven

#RBS6Nations Super Saturday round up

It was an historic day for England rugby as they finally managed to pull off that all too elusive Grand Slam!

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The last time they succeeded was back in 2003 and then went on to win the 2003 World Cup.  Eddie Jones is confident that this England team is also capable of achieveing greatness, and he believes that the Grand Slam accolade is just the start of a new chapter for the team that only six months ago experienced a devastating world cup exit.

#WALvITA

It was another try fest as Wales kicked off the day with a record breaking win against injury ridden Italy.

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#IREvSCO

Scotland couldn’t quite overcome the resolute Irish buy secured a solid third place finish overall.

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#FRAvENG

Le Crunch was not a straight forward affair as the French made England work for their whitewash.  Hartley suffered a nasty blow to the head but the talisman returned to the pitch to collect the Six Nations trophy. 

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It wasn’t quite the finish we had last year, but France’s last stand meant that the final table standings was not fixed until the blowing of the final whistle. 

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We now await the home nations’ summer tours to the Southern Hemisphere where only then will we truly understand how much we have all improved since RWC 2015.   Challenge accepted!!

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