Category: International


Friendly reunion it was not, but New Zealand fans relished seeing Richie McCaw back in black (Image | AP)

Friendly reunion it was not, but New Zealand fans relished seeing Richie McCaw back in black (Image | AP)

The Rugby Championship began this weekend in Sydney with an emphatic 47-29 victory for New Zealand, underlining once again their dominance since the Rugby World Cup of 2011.

The Kiwis welcomed back talismanic captain Richie McCaw and although he was received in typically robust style by the Australian forward pack, his ability in the rucks and in the loose was immense.

His return from a sabbatical from rugby following the 2012 autumn international loss against England galvanised the team to victory in the first Bledisloe Cup Test of 2013.

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The British and Irish Lions took to the field in Sydney on Saturday knowing that their place in the rugby history books would be secured if they could beat their Australian hosts.

WORD | Leigh Halfpenny... (Image | talkSPORT)

Game face | Leigh Halfpenny celebrates as the British and Irish Lions wrap up a 2-1 series win in Australia. (Image | talkSPORT)

When they left the field 80 minutes later, the Lions had a 2-1 series win and became the first side since 1997 to achieve success in the Southern Hemisphere.

First test: Lions 23 Australia 21

The first match kicked off the series in a brutal fashion, with Wallabies centre Christian Leali’ifano being stretchered off less than a minute into his international debut.

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Five matches down and five wins for Britain’s rugby elite. The first half of the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour was promising to say the least, although there are a few areas in which the squad need to improve if they are to challenge Australia fully at the end of the month.

North bound | British and Irish Lions winger George North, scores one of two tries against the Queensland-New South Wales Country XV. (Image | The BBC)

North bound | British and Irish Lions winger George North, scores one of two tries against the Combined Country XV. (Image | The BBC)

British and Irish Lions 58 Barbarian FC 9

The tour kicked off in sweltering conditions in Hong Kong on Saturday, June 1. Facing a slightly stronger Barbarians side than other recent incarnations of the invitation team, the Lions nonetheless outclassed their opponents.

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There was perhaps little surprise in former Wales coach Warren Gatland naming Sam Warburton as his Lions captain (Image | MSN)

There was perhaps little surprise in former Wales coach Warren Gatland naming Sam Warburton as his Lions captain (Image | MSN)

In June 2013, the cream of home nations rugby union talent will travel to Australia for a tour that culminates in a three-match test series after a warm-up series against the country’s club sides. At midday today, on April 30th, 2013, the full squad was announced in London by tour manager Andy Irvine and head coach Warren Gatland.

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England’s 30-3 loss to Wales at the Six Nations was a savage and dizzying one. As the worst ever defeat to their near neighbours, it left many pondering what is missing with this England team.

Hammering | England head coach Stuart Lancaster and his dejected players walk off after the defeat to Wales. (Image | The Sun)

Hammering | England head coach Stuart Lancaster and his players walk off dejectedly after the defeat to Wales. (Image | The Sun)

Perhaps the answer is not that difficult, and the key ingredient is nothing more than a bit of swagger.

We should remember where the England rugby union team were when Stuart Lancaster took over as head coach.

The squad were in disarray, coming off a dismal showing at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and damaged further by embarrassing revelations about the rot that had set in.

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What a tournament the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship was: surely the most closely-contested in recent memory, with none of the teams going unbeaten or losing all their games.

Champions | Wales rejoice after comprehensively defeating England to retain the Six Nations trophy. (Image | Sky Sports)

Champions | Wales rejoice after comprehensively defeating England to retain the Six Nations trophy. (Image | Sky Sports)

The matches themselves were also tight, with this tournament seeing the fewest tries in Six Nations history by a long way.

Going into the final round, Wales and England were the only two sides in contention for the title, while France, Italy and Ireland were fighting to avoid the shame and embarrassment of the wooden spoon.

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Europe’s top six rugby nations will meet one more time this year on Saturday to decide which team will be crowned 6 Nations champions, and determine the destination of the dreaded wooden spoon.

Decider | England captain Chris Robshaw and Welsh skipper Sam Warburton face off against each other this weekend for the 6 Nations crown. (Image | London24)

Decider | England captain Chris Robshaw and Welsh skipper Sam Warburton face off against each other this weekend for the Six Nations crown. (Image | London24)

The fourth round of fixtures ensured that it will be a finale to remember, setting up a showdown for the title between England and Wales, and must-win matches for the other sides.

Scotland 18 Wales 28

Following their victory over Italy two weeks ago, the Welsh are now very much in the ascendency, having found their feet after a shaky start to the tournament.

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Just what has happened to France?

Frederic Michalak's wayward kicking has played a part in France's underwhelming Six Nations campaign (Image | Reuters for OTP)

Frederic Michalak’s wayward kicking has played a part in France’s underwhelming Six Nations campaign (Image | Reuters for OTP)

Prior to this year’s RBS 6 Nations, there were few who would have bet against the French as serious contenders. The only northern hemisphere nation to go unbeaten in the autumn tests, winning impressively against Australia, Argentina and Samoa, they looked to have absolved themselves of the mediocre form that saw them slump to a mid-table finish in the 2012 tournament.

Yet now they find themselves with three defeats from three matches, their title hopes long gone, and some serious work ahead of them if they are to avoid the wooden spoon.

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Another round of fixtures into the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship and at last some discernible order is appearing in the standings.

Committed | Manu Tuliagi even drew blood for England in their 23-13 victory over France last weekend. (Image | The Guardian)

Committed | Manu Tuilagi even drew blood for England in their 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham. (Image | The Guardian)

England are in the ascendency, Wales and Scotland are still finding their feet, and pre-tournament contenders France are floundering at the bottom of the table.

Not that the last round of fixtures were routine encounters: far from it.

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Stuart Hogg's try was one of the moments of the 2013 RBS Six Nations so far - but not the best for Tim (Image | via bbc.co.uk)

Stuart Hogg’s try was one of the moments of the 2013 RBS Six Nations so far – but not the best for Tim (Image | via bbc.co.uk)

Looking back over the first two rounds of this year’s 6 Nations tournament, there is one thing above all that has made it a championship to remember. Not Italy’s monumental win over France in Rome, nor Stuart Hogg’s pair of epic tries for Scotland; not Owen Farrell’s steely resolve in Dublin or even Ryan Jones’ heroics as stand-in captain being the main influence in ending an eight-game losing streak for Wales. It is something more subtle than all of these things, removed from the rugby itself and yet unquestionably improving the all-round experience.

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