Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ashton Key To England Success

Never have I felt so confident as and Englishman during a Six Nations campaign. Some critics may claim that Italy are the 'wooden spoon' side out of the six nations, but I beg to differ.

England stormed to a 59-13 victory at Twickenham, running in eight tries in total. However it wasn't the superb kicking from Toby Flood that caught the eye, nor was it the high intensity and speed provided by scrum half Ben Youngs. It was winger Chris Ashton who stole the headlines as he ran in four tries, the first time an Englishman done this in a Championship match since Ronald Poulton in 1914. The amount of pace and intensity he brings to the side is key to England's campaign, and I'm sure he's going to be a vital part of England's team when they travel to New Zealand in the summer for the World Cup. 

Further tries from skipper Mike Tindall, Danny Care, James Haskell, and a first try in in nineteen tests for full back Mark Cueto gave England a resounding victory at Twickenham. Once again, fly half Toby Flood proved to be a crucial member of the squad by kicking thirteen points between the posts. The Azzuri hit back with a try from replacement hooker Fabio Ongaro, and a further eight points coming from the boot of Mirco Bergamasco. However that wasn't enough to stop England from scoring their first half century of points since 2007.
You can talk all you want about how England played arguably the 'weakest' side in the Six Nations, however I strongly feel that this could be Italy's best chance of proving that they aren't just a stepping stone for other teams to excel off of. As we all saw last week in Rome, Ireland just scrapped their way through a Italy side that showed a lot of promise and progression in their play. They have arguably the best number eight in the world, whose immense power and strength has given the Italian pack more force and acceleration when driving the pack forward. 

Next up for Italy is a home tie against Wales at the Stadio Flaminio, a tie that is a must win for either side. Twickenham will once again be filled next Saturday where England will face fellow favourites France, a match that could decide either teams fate in the competition.

Monday, 7 February 2011

England Ease to Victory In Cardiff

A brace of tries from Chris Ashton gave England a perfect start to their six nations campaign, beating Wales 23-16 in Cardiff.

Toby Flood broke through a huge gap in the Welsh defence, before popping the ball to Chris Ashton to dive heroically over the line. As Wales went a man down when Craig Mitchell was sin binned, England increased their lead as they took advantage of the man advantage when a simple break allowed Chris Ashton to cross the line again. Wales fought back with a converted try by Morgan Stoggart, however a converted penalty kick by Jonny Wilkinson (right) meant that the least the Welsh could get out of the game was a draw. England held on to win at the Millennium stadium for the first time since 2003.

It wasn't the most comprehensive win by no means, nor was it England's best performance in a six nations match. However their were several positives to take away from the match. To win in Cardiff for the first time in eight years is a notable achievement, especially with the amount of expectation that rode on England's shoulders. England's attack, for the most part, was neat and tidy. Scrum Half Ben Youngs controlled the rucks perfectly and set up some great opportunities when releasing the ball from the ruck. The set pieces worked perfectly for England today, as they dominated the line out completely. Number two Dylan Hartley provided excellent service from the line out, as Wales were poor when it came to set pieces. Toby Flood kicked thirteen crucial points, finally proving that he can step out of Jonny Wilkinson's shadow and step up to the plate. Number eight Nick Easter was inspirational, as he was in total control of the England scrummage. 

Can we win the six nations? We have a great chance, however we all know that our main rivals this year will be France. Scotland were completely outplayed at the Stade De France, whilst France were showing the rest of the world their credentials. The next three games are going to be must win ones as they are all at Twickenham. If we can improve on the Welsh performance, then we'll be huge contenders for the six nations crown. Roll on Twickenham this Saturday, where England will face Italy.  

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Bright Future For Hoilett

Blackburn Rovers 2-0 West Bromich Albion

From a neutral aspect, it isn't a mouth watering encounter. However from a fan's point of view, it is a clash that could determine the clubs season.

Rovers ran out comfortable winners at Ewood Park, courtesy of a comical own goal by baggie centre back Gabriel Tamas. However the match was truly won early in the second half, as rising star Junior Hoilett ripped in a ferocious shot from twenty yards out to double Rovers lead. A clever flick from Kalanic set up the young Canadian for his first premier league goal in rovers colours. His sheer pace ripped Albion's defence to pieces, and his ball control was sheer class. Rovers skipper Chris Samba kept the stability in Rovers defence well throughout the match, and diffused potential threats brilliantly. Debutant Jermaine Jones provided a degree of safety with his defensive midfield role, and bullied the Albion's midfield into wasting possession. Paul Robinson made three brilliant saves to keep Rover's ahead, tipping the ball just past the post from a fierce shot from Jerome Thomas.

Albion never threatened the 18 yard line. Albion were denied a certain penalty when referee Mark Clattenburg awarded a free kick to them, when Peter Odenwingie was clearly brought down in the area. Nevertheless, a wasted chance by Jerome Thomas summed up a miserable performance by West Brom, pulling them further into a relegation battle. Rovers however move up to 7th in the league, the first time they have ever hit the top 7 in three seasons. After the performance, Blackburn boss urged his team to continue their good run of form. " If we keep up this run of form that we're in, then we'll most likely finish off in the top half. If we get another three wins, then we can kick on."