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Six Nations Rugby
by Clint Wayne
2007-02-07 08:37:23
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In 1823, when William Webb Ellis picked up a football during a match at Rugby University and ran with it through the opposition’s defence to score the first try in history, the game of Rugby was born, with its scrums, rucks, mauls, line-outs and conversions of that famous oddly-shaped oval ball believed to have been developed from a pig’s bladder.

This weekend saw the opening matches of the 2007 Six Nations Tournament which was first contested with the Four Home Nations in 1882 was then expanded to the Five Nations when France joined in 1910 and finally became the Six Nations when Italy joined in 2000.

This year’s tournament has taken on even greater significance with the Rugby World Cup taking place in France later in the year. It is then that the European Nations will be severely tested by the Southern Hemisphere’s big three: South Africa, Australia and, of course, the all conquering mighty All Blacks from New Zealand.

Favourites to win this year’s tournament are last year’s champions France famed for their fast free-flowing game in which scrum half Dimitri Yachvili acts as the general and is so often the heartbeat in Bernard Laporte’s side. Pressure will be on to show their home nation that they are capable of winning the World Cup on French soil, especially following their recent mauling from the All Blacks.

Last years runners-up, Ireland have a premier forward in Paul O’Connell whose hard and aggressive play can dominate the opposition by his mere presence. The talented Ronan O’Gara is sure to be amongst the points once again and with home advantage over France at Croke Park in their new temporary 82,000 capacity National Stadium this could be their year.

Scotland’s third place last year was nothing short of miraculous given the state of the team when Frank Hadden took over. With injuries to key players a repeat performance may be out of the question and much may depend on Simon Taylor back from injury to carry Scotland’s Back Row effort.

There is surely no way that Wales can be as bad as last year with their startling exhibition of self-destruction both on and off the field. With Gareth Jenkins now in charge there is renewed hope down in the valleys and with rising star James Hook at Fly-half there is every chance this year.

Italy continue to improve now that their best players are all at top French and English clubs. Their pack are big and aggressive and are probably the most physical of all the sides but scoring tries will once again be a problem. With France and Wales at home and the possibility of a win at Murrayfield the wooden spoon may well change hands.

Finally to World Champions England who haven’t played as such since that famous victory but with the return of both Jonny Wilkinson from eternal injury and Jason Robinson from retirement they must surely improve on last year’s performances. With new coach Brian Ashton and new captain Phil Vickery will come new ideas and if the inspirational Andy Farrell can make the change from Rugby League successful happier times surely lay ahead although maybe too late to for the World Cup.

But all eyes were on the now completed Twickenham for the long-awaited return of England’s World Cup winning kicker Jonny Wilkinson who lined up for his first outing since that memorable final. With the additional Calcutta Cup up for grabs against the Ol’ Enemy in their first match a capacity crowd urged England on to victory with their anthem Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

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