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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 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

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! 

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 Round 3 round up

Round 3 kicked off in Cardiff on Friday evening as France took on Wales under the stars as a technical hitch left the Principality Stadium’s roof open.  It was an exciting evening as your trusted biscuits got to experience the atmosphere for themselves.  They were also treated to a pre-game warm up in the company of Wales and Lions legend Dafydd James.

Sadly, the game itself was far from a classic, but Wales secured an important win that keeps them as viable contenders for the title.

Yesterday,  Scotland managed to avoid a tenth Six Nations loss, and England’s solid performance against Ireland leaves them chasing that elusive Grand Slam alone…

#CookiesOnTour

 

Hooray, it’s GAME DAY!!

The Six Nations kicks off today, and it has what it takes to be yet another intriguing tournament, with a number of teams setting their sights at the trophy.

DSC_5989

ROUND ONE

GAME 1 – France v Italy KO 14.25pm, BBC1

DSC_5998Italy will want a good performance to avoid the increasing questions for a relegation system to be introduced, as teams like Georgia putting in impressive performances against high quality opposition at the World Cup.

France remain as unpredictable as ever, and could deliver a surprise coup.

GAME 2 – Scotland v England KO 16:50pm, BBC1

DSC_6002Vern Cotter’s Scotland will be heading to the Calcutta Cup fixture with elevated confidence after narrowly missing out on a coveted World Cup Semi Final place.  A win against England today could see Scotland vying for their first ever six nations win (they are of course, the reigning 5 Nations Champions!).

England’s early World Cup exit was unfortunate, but the fact that Eddie Jones’ new era team broadly mirrors that under predecessor Lancaster, shows that England cannot be ruled out for a championship win.  Whilst England haven’t won the tournament since 2011, they have continued to be a dominant force having finished 2nd for the last four years.

GAME 3 (SUN) – Ireland v Wales KO 15:00pm, ITV

DSC_6000Wales have a strong chance with 3 home games. They also have a good post-World Cup record, having won the tournament with Grand Slams in both 2008 and 2012.

Ireland are looking, however, to retain the title, with Rory Best at the helm in place of talisman Paul O’Connell.  The clash at Twickenham on the 27th may be come to a tournament decider…

May the best biscuit win!DSC_5993

*All of Wales’ games are being shown in Welsh on S4C

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