Tag Archives: nations

Heineken Cup: Harlequins 12 Munster 18: Quins European hopes ended by Irish

Harlequins 12 Munster 18: Resurgent O'Connell jumps back into the Lions queue

PUBLISHED:

15:17 GMT, 7 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

21:09 GMT, 7 April 2013

It may have been basic, but Munster strangled the English champions and were led by Paul O’Connell, who jumped and tackled his way back into Lions contention.

The 2009 Lions captain led a second-half charge which left Chris Robshaw and his Premiership men looking stunned in front of a full house of 15,000.

Munster’s pack won the crucial collisions — paving the way for another rejuvenated Irish master, Ronan O’Gara, to kick six penalties — four in the space of 14 minutes after the interval.

Resurgent: Paul O'Connell (centre) produced a dominant performance that must have put him back in Lions contention

Resurgent: Paul O'Connell (centre) produced a dominant performance that must have put him back in Lions contention

Quins’ previous Heineken Cup quarter-final four years ago, ended in the ‘Bloodgate’ scandal and a 6-5 win for Leinster.

The ramifications will not be as seismic this time, but Quins’ season is now in danger of collapse after three successive Premiership defeats.

They had turned around 9-6 ahead to harbour hopes of reaching a first semi-final at the fourth attempt, but that belief was shattered by Munster’s start to the second half.

O’Gara, shaking off the dis-appointment of being dropped by Ireland during the Six Nations, calmly kicked four penalties to follow his two shots before the interval.

Thin red line: The Munster No 8 steals the ball from Quins No 8 Nick Easter at the lineout

Thin red line: The Munster No 8 steals the ball from Quins No 8 Nick Easter at the lineout

O’Connell led the pack to give watching Lions coach Warren Gatland a firm reminder of his class and strength. On this showing O’Connell, who missed Ireland’s Six Nations campaign due to a back complaint, is a candidate to lead the Lions again following his impressive stint on the 2009 tour to South Africa.

For the moment, the 33-year-old refuses to discuss the prospect. ‘I’ve got a little bit to go in terms of match fitness but this was another injury-free day and I’m delighted to be back,’ he said.
Munster coach Rob Penney believes O’Connell will be ‘humming’ by the time of the Lions’ crucial games in Australia.

Quins director of rugby Conor O’Shea was also full of praise for O’Connell and a Munster pack in which back-rowers Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony were outstanding.

Thank Evans: Quins' New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans secures another three points during the home side's rampant start

Thank Evans: Quins' New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans secures another three points during the home side's rampant start

O’Shea said: ‘Paul was absolutely magnificent. They rallied around him and followed him.’

O’Shea now has the task of re-energising his own team. ‘We didn’t play the way we can play because we weren’t allowed,’ was his blunt assessment.

‘Munster bossed the start of the second half and from then on it was a very big mountain to climb.
‘Our job is to qualify for the Premiership play-offs. We will be written off, no doubt, but we will just have to learn.’

Such thoughts seemed unlikely when Quins took charge at the opening scrums.

Pull the other one: Nick Easter drags back Paul O'Connell by his shirt before bringing him down

Pull the other one: Nick Easter drags back Paul O'Connell by his shirt before bringing himdown

The pressure brought a 6-0 lead through two penalties from Nick Evans and it was Munster who looked likely to crack.

But there were no clear try-scoring chances and the match became increasingly nervy as O’Connell and his gang started to win the crucial decisions from French referee Jerome Garces.

A third penalty from Evans helped Quins limp to a 9-6 lead at half-time and Munster turned to play into a stiff wind.

That handicap looked to make them more focused and a brilliant period of pressure rugby was rewarded by O’Gara’s nerveless kicking. He took Munster to a lead of 18-9 after 56 minutes.

Red riding hood: Munster's famous support were out in force at the Stoop

Red riding hood: Munster's famous support were out in force at the Stoop

A fourth penalty from Evans raised Quins’ hopes in the 65th, only for Munster to produce some clinical ‘keep-ball’ rugby and close out the match — much to the delight of their big following.

O’Connell claimed his team had not talked about such tactics, although his smile said something else. ‘The maul worked well and our kicking game was outstanding — you can’t win these tight games without that,’ he said in praise of O’Gara.

O’Shea refused to blame referee Garces for Quins’ demise. ‘Sometimes you have to say that the better team won,’ he conceded.
Smash and grab: England and Quins Mike Brown is wrestled to the ground by Munster's James Coughlan

Smash and grab: England and Quins Mike Brown is wrestled to the ground by Munster's James Coughlan

Sorry, sir: Quins captain Chris Robshaw is lectured by French referee Jerome Garces

Sorry, sir: Quins captain Chris Robshaw is lectured by French referee Jerome Garces

Chris Ashton backed by Saracens coach Paul Gustard

Ashton backed by Saracens coach Gustard after poor Six Nations

By
Rob Wildman

PUBLISHED:

21:49 GMT, 2 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

07:14 GMT, 3 April 2013

Chris Ashton, the under-fire England wing, has received the backing of Saracens defence coach Paul Gustard.

The club head into Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham believing Ashton is in excellent form despite his poor Six Nations campaign that led to an inquest into his tackling.

Ashton scored his first try in almost two months last Saturday, against Wasps, and Gustard expects more in the Heineken Cup.

Out of sorts: Ashton scored just one try in the Six Nations

Out of sorts: Ashton scored just one try in the Six Nations

Jumping for joy: Chris Ashton celebrates after scoring against Wasps

Jumping for joy: Ashton celebrates after scoring against Wasps last weekend

‘Even if Chris had not scored a try, it does not mean he’s not played well,’ Gustard said. ‘He’s done really, really well for us in the last two weeks and is in a good place after a good show at Wasps.

The problem of being a wing in rugby is that it’s a bit like being a goalkeeper in football. You are the last line in defence; a mistake can cost you.

‘Chris is not a bad defender. Sometimes, he misses a tackle but so what Everyone misses a tackle,’ Gustard added.

On the run: Ashton charges upfield playing for Saracens

On the run: Ashton charges upfield playing for Saracens

He could also be Ashton’s coach on England’s summer tour of Argentina if he does not make the Lions trip to Australia.

Gustard is taking over temporarily because Andy Farrell will help coach the Lions with Warren Gatland.

‘I’m not going to change the way England defend,’ he said. ‘The system has worked well over the last season. It’s a matter of learning and developing as a coach.’

Alex Cuthbert of Wales is out for six weeks after tearing hamstring against England

Wales winger Cuthbert out for six weeks after tearing hamstring against England

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

18:24 GMT, 20 March 2013

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UPDATED:

19:25 GMT, 20 March 2013

Wales winger Alex Cuthbert has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a hamstring tear sustained in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations title-clinching victory over England.

Cuthbert, who scored two tries in the 30-3 rout at the Millennium Stadium, will miss at least four of the Cardiff Blues' remaining five RaboDirect PRO 12 matches.

If the injury takes six weeks to heal, he will also be sidelined for their final game against Ulster on
May 3.

Sidelined: Wales' Alex Cuthbert is to be out for six weeks

Sidelined: Wales' Alex Cuthbert is to be out for six weeks

'Alex suffered a grade two hamstring strain in the first 30 minutes of the match against England. He is expected to be out for between four to six weeks,' read a statement released by the Blues.

Cuthbert is expected to tour with the British & Irish Lions this summer and while the injury will not affect his chances of travelling to Australia, it will leave him short of match fitness ahead of the first game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1.

'Grade two strain': It is Cuthbert's hamstring that is proving the problem

'Grade two strain': It is Cuthbert's hamstring that is proving the problem

Six Nations 2013: Brian O"Driscoll banned for three weeks after stamp on Simone Favaro

Ireland star O'Driscoll given three-week ban for stamping on Italy openside Favaro

By
Rob Wildman

PUBLISHED:

15:08 GMT, 20 March 2013

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UPDATED:

21:57 GMT, 20 March 2013

Brian O’Driscoll was yesterday banned for just three weeks for stamping on Italy’s Simone Favaro due to his exemplary disciplinary record.

A Six Nations disciplinary panel reduced an intended ban of five weeks after hearing mitigation from the veteran Ireland centre, who said it was only his second yellow card in a 14-year professional career.

Ouch: Brian O'Driscoll was sin-binned for this stamp during Ireland's final Six Nations clash

Ouch: Brian O'Driscoll was sin-binned for this stamp during Ireland's final Six Nations clash

Cooling off: O'Driscoll spent ten minutes watching the match

Cooling off: O'Driscoll spent ten minutes watching the match

O’Driscoll, who can appeal, will miss Leinster’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final at Wasps on Friday, April 5.

The 34-year-old, who has indicated he
may retire following the Lions tour, was yellow-carded after he stamped
on the chest of Favaro in Italy’s win over Ireland in the Six Nations
last Saturday.

At the hearing, the 2005 Lions captain admitted he had committed an act of foul play but denied it warranted a red card.

Sendoff O'Driscoll could have appeared for the final time in the Six Nations

Sendoff O'Driscoll could have appeared for the final time in the Six Nations

However, the panel, chaired by Welsh
official Robert Williams, upheld the citing complaint and decided the
offence should have been punished with a sending-off.

Meanwhile, London Irish centre Jonathan Joseph will join Bath at the end of the season.

Northampton approach Scarlets over move for Wales winger George North

Northampton approach Scarlets over move for Wales winger North

PUBLISHED:

20:22 GMT, 19 March 2013

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UPDATED:

20:23 GMT, 19 March 2013

George North's agent has revealed the Scarlets and Northampton are in talks over a possible move for the Wales winger.

The giant three-quarter has one year left on his contract with the west Wales region, and helped Wales retain their RBS 6 Nations crown with a record 30-3 victory over England in Cardiff.

The 20-year-old has previously been linked with a move to France, where several members of the current Wales squad ply their trade, but his agent, Christian Abt confirmed discussions are being held with the Saints.

Targeted: Wales international George North could join the Premiership

Targeted: Wales international George North could join the Premiership

He told the BBC: 'There has been an approach between the two clubs to discuss a possible transfer.'

'I don't think it will drag on too long,' he added.

'I think these things need to happen quite quickly if it's going to happen so that each party knows where they stand.

'It's counter-productive to sort of drag on and for the player as well to know where he will be, so ideally I'm sure it will resolve itself in the next couple of weeks.'

Six Nations winner: North is among Wales' key players

Six Nations winner: North is among Wales' key players

If a move is completed North, widely expected to feature on the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia, would become the latest Wales player to opt to play club rugby outside the principality.

Mike Phillips (Bayonne), James Hook (Perpignan), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Aled Brew (Biarritz), Lee Byrne (Clermont) and Paul James (Bath) have already moved, while Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate are set to cross the Channel this summer.

The Scarlets said they would not discuss players' contracts publicly when contacted by Press Association Sport, while Northampton also declined to comment on Abt's remarks.

Six Nations 2013: Brian O"Driscoll cited for stamp on Simone Favaro

O'Driscoll cited for stamp on Italy openside Favaro during Ireland's Six Nations defeat

By
Duncan Bech, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

18:15 GMT, 18 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

23:18 GMT, 18 March 2013

Brian O'Driscoll has been cited for stamping on Simone Favaro in Ireland's 22-15 RBS 6 Nations defeat by Italy on Saturday.

A brief statement issued by tournament
organisers confirmed that independent citing commissioner Aurwel Morgan
has decided the incident warranted further scrutiny.

The date and location for O'Driscoll's hearing has yet to be announced.

Ouch: Brian O'Driscoll was sin-binned for this stamp during Ireland's final Six Nations clash

Ouch: Brian O'Driscoll was sin-binned for this stamp during Ireland's final Six Nations clash

Cooling off: O'Driscoll spent ten minutes watching the match

Cooling off: O'Driscoll spent ten minutes watching the match

O'Driscoll was sent to the sin-bin for only the second time in his 14-year professional career in the first half of the match at the Stadio Olimpico.

The 34-year-old lifted his right leg and brought it down on to the chest of Favaro, the Italy openside, who yelled out in pain and writhed around on the turf.

The act was out of character for O'Driscoll, who has a fine disciplinary record, and was evidence of his frustration as Ireland slumped to a first Six Nations defeat by Italy.

However, he was lucky to have escaped a red card for an incident that clouded what is thought to have been his 125th and final Test in a green shirt.

Sendoff O'Driscoll could have appeared for the final time in the Six Nations

Sendoff O'Driscoll could have appeared for the final time in the Six Nations

The recommended suspension for a low
end stamping offence is two weeks, the mid range five weeks and top end
nine weeks, up to a maximum of one year.

While the offence was serious, O'Driscoll's lack of previous disciplinary issues will count in his favour.

It will be hoped by his province
Leinster that he is available for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final
against Wasps on April 5 and for as much of their RaboDirect Pro 12
title push as possible.

A statement issued by the Six Nations
read: 'Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland centre, has been cited by the
independent citing commissioner for an alleged stamping or trampling on
an opponent, contrary to Law 10.4 (b), in the RBS 6 Nations match
between Italy and Ireland on Saturday 16th March 2013. Details of the
Hearing will be announced later.'

Meanwhile, Ireland wing Luke Fitzgerald has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Italy.

Sir Clive Woodward: England must use intimidation as inspiration

England must use intimidation as inspiration in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium

PUBLISHED:

22:49 GMT, 15 March 2013

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UPDATED:

08:13 GMT, 16 March 2013

The Millennium Stadium is a unique
ground. Sitting bang in the middle of the city of Cardiff, the stadium
feels like the beating heart of Wales on match days.

There are few venues around the world
where supporters can finish their pints with five minutes to spare,
pour out of the pubs and take their seats in time for kick-off.

As a coach, when you have said your
final few words to the team in the relative peace of the dressing room
and walk out to hear the crowd singing under that roof, it can feel like
you are emerging into the Colosseum in Rome.

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

More from Sir Clive Woodward…

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time to pile on the pressure and use Cardiff cauldron to test mettle of England's players
14/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: 2013 v 2003 – how my Grand Slam heroes compare to today’s side gunning for Six Nations glory
14/03/13

EXCLUSIVE: Sir Clive Woodward talks Grand Slams with George North… Training has been brutal and we're ready to do battle
13/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: This is the last England game for six months with everyone available and Ashton has a point to prove
11/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time for England to wake up and smell the roses
10/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: England must fear the Italians if they are to prevent the biggest Six Nations shock ever
08/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Just like no-nonsense Johnno, Robshaw is a natural born leader
07/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Ranting Rafa He's far too shrewd for that
28/02/13

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Stuart Lancaster and his players will
sense that fever with a welcome like no other. Despite the fierce
rivalry, you get better looked after in Wales than anywhere else – they
want to thrash you, but they want it to be a fair fight.

There are no silly games – nobody rushes you off the pitch or limits the number of balls you have for the warm-up.

Hostility is manifest in the passionate support, not stupid mind games.

In 2001, when I took England to
Wales for our first ever match at the Millennium Stadium, I decided we
should stay in Cardiff Bay because I wanted to be near town and a part
of the build-up, not stuck on the outskirts and excluded from the buzz.

You want to be in the thick of it so you're not overwhelmed when you come in on match day, particularly for a 5pm kick-off.

From the Monday morning of the build-up to that Test almost every press conference question was about the stadium.

'Intimidation' was clearly the theme but I made it clear that we were playing the Welsh team, not the stadium. I held a meeting that night and told the players to turn the word 'intimidation' into 'inspiration'.

Players prepare in different ways. Hooker Steve Thompson, for example, braced himself for the Cardiff cacophony by practising his lineout throwing with white noise blasting through his headphones. It paid off as on the day his set-piece was as accurate as ever.

The players had never been inside the ground until we were given a tour of the stadium the day before the game.

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

RBS 6 NATIONS TITLE – PERMUTATIONS

England's victory over Italy means a win against Wales in Cardiff would seal a first Grand Slam in a decade.

However, Wales have everything to play for because a victory for them could be enough to retain the RBS 6 Nations title and leave England empty-handed.

England are currently two points ahead of Wales in the table and with a points-difference advantage of 14.

Under tournament rules, if the points and points difference end level then the championship would be decided on tries scored.

Wales hold the advantage 7-5 going into the final round. If tries scored is also level, the title is shared.

Here, we examine the permutations:

ENGLAND WIN GRAND SLAM

An England victory by any margin would secure a first Grand Slam triumph in a decade.

ENGLAND WIN TITLE

An England defeat by six points or fewer would still be enough to seal the title.

If England lose by seven points but outscore Wales by three tries or more then Stuart Lancaster's men would win the title.

WALES WIN TITLE

A Wales victory by seven points, providing they stay ahead of England on tournament tries, would see Rob Howley's men retain the title.

TITLE SHARED

If Wales win by seven points but England score two more tries then the title would be shared.

I wanted my team, particularly the back three, to get used to catching high balls under the lights and watching the flight of balls against the closed roof.

We walked into the away dressing room to find giant cardboard cutouts of the entire Welsh team – bigger than life size.

You've never heard such laughter in your life. It turned out they were there for tourists as part of the stadium tour, but the stadium officials had genuinely forgotten to move them.

The facilities in the stadium are second to none.

The away dressing room is big and spacious, unlike at Murrayfield where there is a giant pillar in the middle.

When we arrived on match day, I walked on to the pitch with Martin Johnson and we were booed by the supporters.

Johnno walked into the centre of the pitch and held his hands in the air – making it very clear this was exactly where he wanted to be.

The home and away dressing rooms are about 50 metres apart in a long corridor, so you are kept well away from your opponents.

While football players tend to hang out in the tunnel before coming out together that doesn't happen in rugby.

You come out separately – England to subdued cheers, Wales to pyrotechnics, blasting music and booming choirs.

The first time you see your opponents is when you line up for the anthems. It is all part of the magic.

One of the few things I miss from my coaching days is the dressing-room atmosphere on days like today.

It is the most electric place in the world with 20 minutes to go before
kickoff – a mix of adrenaline, fear and anticipation.

Ten players in
Lancaster's starting XV have never experienced that atmosphere and I
hope they are inspired, not intimidated.

Real champions thrive in enemy
territory. The dressing room against Wales was always noisier than at
home. Guys such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and Matt Dawson
would come into their own.

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

I expect Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Tom
Youngs and Geoff Parling to do the same, supporting captain Chris
Robshaw to deliver the final key messages and get everybody focused on
kick-off.

We won comfortably on that first trip – but that doesn't mean it wasn't a dramatic day.

After
the game we returned to the hotel to change for the post-match dinner
but travelling back to the stadium was a nightmare.

A
lot of supporters had been drinking all day and we were stuck in a sea
of red shirts, crawling through the crowds at three or four mph with a
giant red rose on the side of the coach.

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

I had a superstition and would sit front left in the coach. A man in the crowds caught my eye because he had obviously had a big day out but was running straight towards us as if he was planning to tackle the coach.

At the last minute, he sidestepped to his right in Gerald Davies-style but was promptly knocked out cold by the large wing mirror.

I stopped the coach and got out, followed by a few players and our doctor, who rushed to help while we radioed for the police.

Suddenly I realised there was me and most of the England team in the middle of a crowd of drunk fans standing over a prostrate Welshman. It looked like we had run him over!

People started pointing fingers and it all got a little tense.

Then a crowd of equally well-oiled England fans pushed their way to the front and it really started to get a bit tasty. The police arrived just in time and sense prevailed.

That was more than 10 years ago, when England had a far stronger team than Wales.

Since then, Wales have become something of a nation of experts in this tournament – to win three Grand Slams in the last eight years is an amazing achievement.

I had a great team and we only did it once. But Lancaster's team are winners and I believe they will be inspired by playing in Cardiff.

They have only ever been beaten by single figures so this game will be close.

If England keep their cool in the Cardiff cauldron, they are good enough to win.

I truly hope they do. It is time a new generation of Englishmen stepped up to the plate and won the Grand Slam.

MY SIX KEY BATTLE AREAS…

1. KEEP COOL IN THE CAULDRON

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

This England team have an abundance of testosterone flowing through them and Wales will target the players who have a history of reacting.

Joe Marler, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Mike Brown have had their moments and this can be a good thing – the 2003 team were at their best when there was a bit of sulphur in the air.

But you have to tread the line between never taking a step backwards and not getting distracted or involved in anything that puts you or your team-mates off their game.

England have recieved two yellow cards in this tournament, another today could cost them the Grand Slam. Let the score do the talking and silence the crowd.

The message from Stuart Lancaster must be about finding the crucial balance – you have to compete for the ball at the breakdown, but needless penalties will kill your team.

Referee Steve Walsh was extremely strict at the contact zone in Dublin last weekend.

Listen to him, repeat his calls, react and adapt to how he is marshalling that breakdown.

If he starts penalising the tackler for not rolling away, then make a show of releasing the player early and doing what he asks.

Be smart – get the wrong side of Walsh and you're in trouble.

2. GO FORWARD BEFORE YOU GO WIDE

England have not scored a try against Wales for 196 minutes but it will be almost impossible for them to win without doing so in a game as tight as this, so they must sort out their attacking strategies.

The ambition was there against Italy, the failure was in execution.

There is no point passing the ball out wide if the opposition have more defenders in the line than you have attackers, as was often the case against Italy.

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Use the early phases to charge directly forward and suck more defenders into the ruck and the narrow channels.

Then, when there is space out wide, release the ball.

Ben Youngs has to lead this, ordering the forwards to use their firepower and go 'route one' very early in the game.

3. OPTIONS ARE KEY TO ATTACK

Talisman Owen Farrell returns and England will take confidence in having their best half-back pairing in the spine of the side, but full back Alex Goode is key to offering a second option in attack.

The clash of the centres will be monstrous in midfield but I hope Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi have the confidence not just to run into contact but to pass the ball before contact.

Use Tuilagi as a decoy and out-think the Welsh. This is where Goode is key.

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

He has gone quiet in games, so he needs to come into the attack as a second receiver to create plays and get the side playing more expansively.

Barritt and Tuilagi can become a great pairing but they need Goode to give Farrell more options in the inside centre role.

4. IT'S A MISTAKE TO FOCUS ONLY ON THE DANGERMEN

Alex Cuthbert and George North are giant dangers on the wing – I couldn't believe just how big George was when I met him!

He is such an intelligent player, too, so Chris Ashton has his work cut out. Both wingers come looking for crash balls either inside or outside the fly-half.

But Wales' back line have the footballing ability to miss the winger out and if England focus on one player they can get caught out.

England just need to keep their defensive shape. If the big guys come at you hard it is about technique – hit them hard and low.

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

If your technique is sloppy – and England have been guilty of going in too high recently – then you will look stupid.

I expect a big step up in England's tackling today, Ashton included.

Both defensive coaches, Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards, have brought huge rugby league influences into these sides.

League is fundamentally a simpler game with a bigger emphasis on defence, especially the blitz defence where players rush up and 'get in the face' of attackers.

Wales have gone 277 minutes without conceding a try (they could beat my team's tournament record of 319 minutes).

The challenge is keeping your shape when your lungs are burning and your brain is starved of oxygen.

This game will be won in the last 10 minutes and that is when the fitness of these two teams will be tested.

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton in his tracks will be one of England's big challenges

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton
in his tracks will be one of England's big
challenges

5. TARGET WARBURTON

It is less than 100 days to the first Lions Test and the backrow battle will be fascinating – but the turnover contest is not a question of Chris Robshaw v Sam Warburton.

Whichever England player arrives at the breakdown first has to target Warburton. Against a player of his strength, you have to decide – attack the ball or attack him.

You need to try to get him off the ball before he sets up in that 'crouched jackal' position over it.

Once he is set up, you won't be able to move him, so hit him as early as you can within the laws of the game.

6. GET THE BALL IN AND OUT OF THE SCRUM

The bigger the game, the bigger the basics. Basics are the scrum, the lineout and the restart.

For all the attacking flair in these teams out wide, if you do not nail those three foundations then you cannot create real momentum.

In the front row, Joe Marler and Dan Cole must deal with Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, who have been the cornerstone of Wales' three Grand Slams, so England have to be clever.

The stadium turf has a tendency to cut up so you want to get the ball in, out and away.

Win the engagement and use the scrum as a platform to restart your attack quickly.

If you leave the ball in and the scrum collapses you give the referee an opportunity to penalise you.

At restarts, England must be aware of the aerial threat of North and Cuthbert, who can out-jump forwards. Do not let them get to the ball first.

SIX NATIONS 2013: How good is England"s team?

We asked England's 2003 Grand Slam and World Cup winners for their views on Stuart Lancaster's side… what was the verdict

PUBLISHED:

22:42 GMT, 2 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

16:23 GMT, 3 March 2013

England are two wins away from completing the Grand Slam, but just how good is Stuart Lancaster's side Sportsmail asked the class of 2003, who not only triumphed in the Six Nations, but were also crowned world champions.

The questions we put to them were:

1 How good are this England team
2 Can they replicate your triumphs
3 Which players have impressed you

Matt Dawson

Matt Dawson

Scrum-half, 77 England caps, 16 tries. Retired in 2006. Now media pundit

1 They are easily the best since 2003, not necessarily a great set of individuals but, as a unit, they are very impressive. They’re in a similar position to us in 2001 but with less experience.

2 If they continue as they are, they will be in prime position for the World Cup in 2015. Winning the Grand Slam in a fortnight will help as they need to win big games under pressure.

3 I like the second row. They have become the epitome of the engine room. I’m also impressed with how Danny Care is dealing with being second-choice scrum-half.

Mature: Danny Care has taken well to being second choice

Mature: Danny Care has taken well to being second choice

Phil Vickery

Phil Vickery

Prop, 73 caps, 2 tries. Retired in 2010. Runs clothing brand Raging Bull

1 They’re good now but have potential to be great. I can see quite a few similarities to us, when it comes to individuals and their positions. The only player they’ll never find is a Billy Whizz [Jason Robinson].

2 Can they Yes. Will they With luck they should win the Grand Slam, but Wales will not be easy, and they need to hit a few more speedbumps before the World Cup to toughen them up.

3 Chris Robshaw is top of my list. He’s been outstanding as a player and captain. I’d also like to single out coach Stuart Lancaster. He hasn’t put a foot wrong. Manu Tuilagi’s my other man. Owen Farrell has also impressed.

Ben Cohen

Ben Cohen

Wing, 57 caps, 31 tries. Retired in 2011. Chairman of anti-bullying charity

1 They’re developing nicely but aren’t yet the best in the world. With Wales away for a Grand Slam we will find out whether this team can dig deep. The 2003 side suffered setbacks that made them stronger.

2 I don’t see why not. But I’d like to see a few more peaks and troughs so that we peak in 2015 for the World Cup.

3 I like the back row, including James Haskell. Tom Wood reminds me of Richard Hill. Ben Youngs may have more control but Danny Care is like Matt Dawson in how he can put the opposition on the back foot.

No joke: James Haskell has impressed in England's back row

No joke: James Haskell has impressed in England's back row

Richard Hill

Richard Hill

Flanker, 71 caps, 12 tries. Retired in 2008. Now coach at Saracens

1 They are performing well, are led well and seem to know what they want. In 10 years, the game has moved on, but this group seem quicker than us to find the answers.

2 There’s every indication that they can. They’ve already played all the best teams in the world and fared OK to very well against them. Winning the Slam would give them the confidence we got from our 2003 Slam.

3 Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood. They are ferocious in the breakdown and are used as an attacking weapon in defence. Manu Tuilagi is critical to England, too.

Mike Tindall

Mike Tindall

Centre, 75 caps, 14 tries. Now player-coach at Gloucester

1 They’ve been playing at a high intensity and their biggest strength is the pressure they apply. But there is still work to be done.

2 They can better us by winning a Grand Slam two years before the World Cup. I’d be disappointed if they don’t. Win, and they can go on to be world champions.

3 Manu Tuilagi is England’s key player and Robshaw’s consistency is outstanding, Joe Launchbury’s a real find and look out for Billy Vunipola.

Main man: Manu Tuilagi has been at the forefront of England's Grand Slam bid

Main man: Manu Tuilagi has been at the forefront of England's Grand Slam bid

Josh Lewsey

Josh Lewsey

Full-back, 55 caps, 22 tries. Retired in 2011. Works in the City as commodities trader

1 This is a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Not many would get into our team, but what’s more important is the environment Stuart Lancaster has created.

2 Yes, in terms of medals, although I don’t think the calibre of rugby in the Northern Hemisphere is as high as it could be. This England team are doing well but we set the global standards in 2001-02.

3 It’s hard to single out individuals because England’s best weapon has been their teamwork. I do like Dan Cole’s demeanour and the way he goes about his business.

Ben Kay

Ben Kay

Lock, 62 caps, 2 tries. Retired in 2010. Now a ESPN commentator and media analyst

1 So far, very good, but it’s still early days. They need a lot more time. And how many would get into our team Not as many as some might think. We were much older and had experienced leaders all over the pitch.

2 They can, but don’t hang everything on 2015. Don’t forget the majority of the 2003 team went through the 1999 World Cup and the current team are certainly young enough to go on and win in 2019 instead — or maybe even as well.

3 Obviously Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell, but also Dan Cole and Joe Launchbury.

Hands on approach: Joe Launchbury is another who has grown during the Six Nations campaign

Hands on approach: Joe Launchbury is another who has grown during the Six Nations campaign

Trevor Woodman

Trevor Woodman

Prop, 22 caps, 0 tries. Retired in 2004. Forwards coach at Wasps

1 Judging by the last few results, England are becoming very difficult to beat. But are they better than we were Yes and no. They are a bit younger than us and we had more world-class players. What is similar is that a lot of our team had the disappointment of the 1999 World Cup, just as some of this team were at the 2011 Cup.

2 Without a doubt, if not better than what we achieved, but there are caveats. We must ensure we keep up, if not get ahead, of any improvements by others. We must ensure there is stiff competition for places and we must make Twickenham a fortress.

3 Mako Vunipola because he is such a destructive ball-carrier; Joe Launchbury, because he doesn’t make mistakes. And Manu, of course. He has the X Factor.

Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson

Hooker, 73 caps, 4 tries. Retired in 2011. Now living with his new family in Dubai

1 Good and will get better. I’m not sure the best starting XV is playing yet. The scrum creaked a bit against France.

2 Certainly with the Grand Slam. We’ll find out more about whether they can stand the pressure. I want to see them bully sides like we did, mentally and physically.

3 Tom Youngs is our best hooker now, overtaking Dylan Hartley. He’s awesome in the scrum and the loose and if he fine-tunes some of his set-piece he will be world class.

Head and shoulders above the rest: Tom Youngs (centre) has emerged as England's best hooker

Head and shoulders above the rest: Tom Youngs (centre) has emerged as England's best hooker

Will Greenwood

Will Greenwood

Centre, 55 caps, 31 tries. Retired in 2006. Now a media analyst

1 I’m enjoying watching them. They have great mental strength and are improving in stature every game. It’s a great sign they can beat sides as good as France when not playing well, and be annoyed about it.

2 The Grand Slam definitely and with a World Cup at home the options open up.

3 Geoff Parling. He jumps, he pushes, he tackles, he does exactly what it says on the tin. And Owen Farrell. To be a stand-off in a World Cup-winning side you need to be a tough nut and a sponge. He absorbs every lesson Test rugby throws at him.

SAM TOMKINS: This is the biggest year in our sporting history and I can"t wait to give the Aussies a beating

This is the biggest year in our sport's history and I can't wait to give the arrogant Aussies a World Cup beating

.

Well
even though Leeds just came up short losing 14-18, Kevin still gets my
vote. When you see him train he’s utterly ruthless, he’s one of this
country’s finest sporting leaders and is so important to Leeds and
England.

Cameron Smith of Melbourne Storm poses with the trophy

Kevin Sinfield of Leeds Rhinos

Winners: Cameron Smith (left) may have held the World Club Challenge trophy aloft last Friday but Kevin Sinfield (right) gets Sam's vote as deserved player of the year

Away from rugby league and I was immensely proud to see my brother Joel selected for a Six Nations squad last week, although he didn’t make the match-day squad against France.

Joel and I are really close and when
he moved down to London I found it quite hard. We used to train together
every day and even though he’s only two hours away on the train it was
weird not seeing him.

I’m
delighted that he’s taken to life down south so quickly and hopefully in
the not too distant future will get a place in the full England team.
I’ll definitely be down there cheering him on should he
make it.

Pride of a Lion: Sam's brother Joel (left) was called into the England rugby union squad for the Six Nations game against France

Pride of a Lion: Sam's brother Joel (left) was called into the England rugby union squad for the Six Nations game against France

Also, I was shocked to read about the awful racist abuse Mario Balotelli got in football's Milan derby at the weekend.

There is absolutely no place for racism in any sport and the worst part is generally its a minority that spoil it and damage the reputation of a club.

Shocking: Balotelli (foreground) was racially taunted by Inter Milan fans at the wekeend

Shocking: Balotelli (foreground) was racially taunted by Inter Milan fans at the wekeend

Six Nations 2013: Manu Tuilagi vs Mathieu Bastareaud

When Tuilagi clashes with opposing centre Bastareaud… the noise will be heard from space

By
Chris Foy

PUBLISHED:

22:19 GMT, 18 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

06:05 GMT, 19 February 2013

As Stuart Lancaster's England prepare to face off against France in the RBS Six Nations match this weekend, Sportsmail examines one of the key clashes to look out for at Twickenham.

England centre Manu Tuilagi has a contrasting style to his opposite number Mathieu Bastareaud, but the fact that both of these magnificent players relishes the rough and tumble makes this a clash of the titans.

Battering ram: Manu Tuilagi

Clash of the titans: Mathieu Bastareaud

Clash of the titans: Mathieu Bastareaud (right) and Manu Tuilagi (left) are set to go head-to-head

Manu Tuilagi

Story: Born in the village of Fatausi-Fogapoa, but bred in the Leicester Tigers academy. Was forced to play with older kids for fear of injuring those his age.

They just weren't big enough.

Style: Brings the beaches of Samoa to west London. Seeks contact like a homing missile and relishes physicality.

If there is an easy way round he will find a way through. Most dangerous when smiling.

Danger man: Tuilagi relishes the physical battles in the centre of the field

Danger man: Tuilagi relishes the physical battles in the centre of the field

Head to head

Weakness : Reputation for indiscipline in defence. Not the world's slickest passer. Refuses to roll up his socks.

Controversy: The fifth and final act of England's World Cup meltdown came when Tuilagi decided to jump off a ferry in Auckland after a day out 'celebrating' with the boys.

Mathieu Bastareaud

Story: Born into a football family but quickly became the star of the youth academy at French third division side SU Massy.

Style: Fleet-footed step and change of pace belies his massive frame and many chins. Capable of enormous defensive hits and more mobile than he should be.

Weakness : Would be a front-row prop in any other era so fades in the final minutes and his defence on his outside foot can be exploited.

In the mix: Bastareaud powers through his France team-mates during training

In the mix: Bastareaud powers through his France team-mates during training

Controversy: Caused a diplomatic incident in 2009 when he claimed he was assaulted by five men in Wellington, forcing the Prime Minister to apologise.

It turned out he was drunk in his hotel room and injured his face when he fell over.