BATTERED NYC – First off, we hope all of you affected by Hurricane Sandy are at least safe and warm. Thankfully, but for some power outages, our immediate RWU families are okay.
Now for Rugby… Let’s begin our 4-part look at the Rugby November Internationals.
All teams released their sides for the November Tours but of course, no sooner is the squad list released, when players go down with injury. Taking that into consideration, this is Part I: Six Nations.
Wales: The reigning 6N champs were winless in their summer tour and come into the fall tour in a similar coaching situation. Interim Head Coach Rob Howley did show he is a capable head coach in the absence of Head Coach Warren Gatland. Gatland is coaching the British and Irish Lions, so he will only be working with the Welsh team in a limited capacity. The loss to injury of Adam Jones and Craig Mitchell at tighthead prop puts the team in a bit of a bother, as they are calling up more unproven players. The lose of Dan Lydaite will hurt less, due to the depth at backrow. The Fall Squad is bolstered by the return of Jamie Roberts and an in form George North, so we will see how they go.
England: After an 0-1-2 tour of South Africa in the summer, England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster has made some bold decisions. The 32 man squad is filled with players that have been promoted from the England “A” side the Saxons to replace injured players. The real head-turner was Mako Vunipola, the Tongan-born and English-raised prop for Saracens, whose stock has a had meteoric rise. He is very young to be a national team prop at 21, but certainly has a bright future. Lancaster wants to play a more expansive game than England are traditionally known for. Only time will tell if that works. Unfortunately, since the roster announcement, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler and Courtney Lawes have gone down with injury.
France: Les Blues are going into the Autumn Internationals (yet another name for the these tests) without their leader, Captain Thierry Dusautoir. The 33-man squad has had to undergo other changes as well, due to injures. Along with Dusatoir, hooker Christopher Tolofua, is out and wing Alexis Palisson are out. Replacements have been called up and RWU favorite Pascal Pape is captain. Head Coach Philippe Saint-Andre has called up young players like Gael Fickou with an eye towards 2015, to see firsthand what the young talent can do. This round of Internationals should answer some questions and likely raise new ones.
Ireland: Coach Declan Kidney was already under a lot of fire following the ugly winless summer tour of New Zealand, including a 60-0 drubbing. On the back of that, it was announced this week that living legend Brian O’Driscoll will be unavailable due to an ankle injury. BOD will be joined by hooker Rory Best on the sidelines. Best has arguably been the most consistent Irish player over the last 2 years. Also missing will be fullback Rob Kearney . This may seem like doom and gloom but it is not as bad as it seems. The loss of BOD forces Ireland to start looking at serious options for 13 for life after BOD and there are a long list of contenders/pretenders to that throne. There are quality players that can cover; newly-minted South African born, hookerRichardt Strauss, will definitely offset the lose of Best. The heat on Kidney will not be reduced due to the injuries, though. Be assured of that.
Scotland: The Scots were the only 6N team with a successful Summer Tour, going 4-0. The 34-man training squad features 7 uncapped players. The list could grow to 8, depending on who is brought in for the injured Duncan Weir. Scotland have been able to match other nations in the forwards for the past few seasons but the lack of studs in the backline and their ball-handling have been their downfall. The addition of Dutch-born wing Tim Visser will help the attack and the addition of Skills Coach Scott Johnson may help Head Coach Andy Robinson’s side find their killer instinct with ball in hand.
Italy: La Azzuri had a good summer tour of North America. They blooded a core of young players and still went 3-0 against Argentina, Team USA and Canada. Now the Fall Tour will be a whole new challenge to head coach Jacques Brunel’s side. The 30-man squad will be without veteran lock Marco Bortolami, but otherwise the side looks pretty fit for the November. Italy are now a legit Top-10 rugby nation, however, it seems they have yet to prove they can move beyond the 10th spot. This tour will be their opportunity to state their case.
Here is a look at the Full Fall Test Schedule including referee assignments (paging RWU Referee Cody Kuxmann) for those of you that were curious.
Switching gears, we’d like to remind all of you about the Movember Fundraiser we are part of. Click on the link and please donate. It only takes a moment and anything you have to give is appreciated.
That is it for now. Please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our FacebookRugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber,@Declan Yeats and @Mathew Drew Turner, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.