"When Leicester’s rumbustious No8, one of the revelations of the Premiership season, ponders the principal motivation behind his England ambitions, he will not give you any bull about a love for a country where he has lived for just a few months with his wife and a baby son. Nor will he talk darkly of cocking a snook at All Blacks coaches who clearly never fancied him.
"No, Waldrom really does make it sound as if it’s just down to a simple crush on rugby. “When you’re playing the game as a youngster, you dream of one day playing at the highest level possible. That’s what I still want,” he says.
“For me, it would be the ultimate rugby challenge, a Test match at Twickenham in front of 82,000. The thing is, I love playing rugby. Just getting out there and enjoying my job, really.”
McCully sorry not all moved RWC games stayed south
Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully is disappointed not all the five pool games that were scheduled for Christchurch were kept in the South Island. The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever reports.
"Dunedin and Auckland have emerged as the major beneficiaries of the decision to move World Cup matches away from the quake-damaged city. World Cup organisers yesterday confirmed the revised schedule which has seen the relocation of the five pool matches and two quarter-finals to have been played in Christchurch.
"The three remaining South Island venues - Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill - will host an extra match, while North Harbour Stadium and Wellington will also get an additional game. Eden Park will host two quarter-finals, both semifinals and the final.
"Mr McCully said he had hoped the pool games would stay in the South Island. "It's a question of having the whole concept of a stadium of four million people. We wanted to keep as much of the North Island/South Island balance as possible. Clearly the shift of those games and the quarter-finals is a significant shift to the North Island.
"That's disappointing, frankly, [but] it's their decision and we accept that. But I had a duty to convey a sense that the Government would like the games in the South Island, if possible."
Leinster have beaten Munster in their last five meetings, but Paul O'Connell wants to prove that reports of his province's demise are greatly exaggerated. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"In years to come, it could well be logged as a seminal moment in the history of Munster rugby.
"Saturday, January 22, 2011, Thomond Park, 12 minutes left on the clock and Ryan Lamb has just converted Sailosi Tagicakibau's try to push London Irish into a 14-7 lead.
"The Exiles are on fire, smelling the glory that goes with becoming only the second team after Leicester in 2007 to win a Heineken Cup match in that famed Limerick stadium.
"Munster are in free-fall.
"The week has been dominated by post-Toulon fall-out, peppered with disturbing, unfamiliar words like 'crisis', 'revolution' and 'panic' as Irish rugby tried to get its head around Munster not making the last eight of the Heineken Cup for the first time in 13 years.
"Paul O'Connell stood tall as the players gathered behind the posts. Between injury and suspension, Munster's second-row and captain was featuring in only his fourth match of the season, but the gravity of the situation was not lost on him."
Jerry Flannery looks to be in a race against time for possible World Cup selection after Munster coach Tony McGahan confirmed yesterday his season is now over. The Irish Times reports.
"The 36-times Ireland international underwent an operation on Tuesday to repair a troublesome calf injury which has kept him sidelined since the turn of the year.
"Flannery will now face into a three-month recovery period and will play no part in the remainder of Munster’s season.
"With Declan Kidney due to name his World Cup squad on August 22nd, time is still on Flannery’s side but there remains little margin for error.
"Already this season he has attempted two comebacks (against Toulon and Ulster), both of which ended with the Limerick man breaking down owing to problems with either calf.
"Asked whether this latest procedure represented a last-chance saloon for the 32-yea-old hooker, McGahan refused to speculate, but conceded his immediate future now lies in the hands of the medical team."
James O'Connor's recent form has been so impressive that Wallabies officials are deliberating whether he should be moved from the wing and be brought closer to the action at inside-centre. The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden reports.
"O'Connor is also in contention to be Quade Cooper's back-up as the Test No.10 when the Wallabies go into Tri Nations and World Cup mode from July. Although the Force have only won one match, O'Connor has been the most consistent player of the five Australian teams, excelling at five-eighth. O'Connor has enthused Wallabies selectors with his aggressive attitude, eagerness to take the initiative and to test the opposition at every opportunity.
"One of his best efforts was against the Stormers in Cape Town last weekend, where O'Connor provided resistance to an opposition who were right at the top of their game. The Stormers won by 35 points, but the margin would have been more embarrassing if O'Connor was not on the field. He constantly hassled the Stormers, and provided the highlight of the game when he took on their front row and winger Bryan Habana, beating all to score a classic solo try. Apart from bulking up,
"O'Connor has worked hard on his goalkicking, and is sitting third on the Super Rugby points-scoring list, with a tally of 80 from two tries, 22 penalty goals and two conversions."
The Scotsman's David Ferguson reflects on Scotland coach Andy Robinson's decision to withdraw five of his top players from club rugby for the rest of the season.
"Robinson is acutely aware, therefore, of the need to have his best players available for a World Cup in which he will have to overcome Romania, Georgia and at least one of Argentina or England to maintain Scotland's 100 per cent record of reaching quarter-finals.
"And he acknowledged that while he remains hopeful of securing the release of some players currently in England, as well as France, Ireland and Wales, for the summer camp, many of them will play intense games over the next six weeks.
"He also acknowledged that the decision, made with the understanding but not delight of Nick Scrivener at Edinburgh and Glasgow's Sean Lineen, would not please supporters, and while the fact that both teams were not in the running for the Magners League play-offs the action may have been taken even if they were."
Shane Horgan joins an exclusive club this Saturday when he makes his 200th appearance for his province, joining a restricted membership list containing names such as Anthony Foley, Alan Quinlan and Peter Stringer. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"Those appearances have encompassed a career characterised by commitment and consistency to the point when the 32-year-old's compelling form for Leinster this season pushed him back into the Ireland reckoning when many had deemed the Meath man to be no longer of international relevance.
"Unfortunately, injury hindered Horgan's hopes of stepping in for Tommy Bowe when the Ospreys right wing was ruled out of Ireland's opening two matches but, although there are now just five months until New Zealand 2011, a strong end to the season with Leinster could yet propel the 65-cap veteran into the World Cup mix.
"Defined by his size and abrasive style -- typified by coming in off his wing to commit defenders with crashing runs up the middle -- it was suggested that Horgan would be left behind by the off-loading, free-flowing approach adopted by Leinster under Joe Schmidt.
"Instead he has flourished in his 18 appearances this season, displaying a deftness of touch as well as support and spatial awareness, while losing none of the aggression in contact that forged his reputation."
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Crusaders' high-profile Super Rugby clash with The Sharks was not the money-spinner they had hoped.
"While the Crusaders' Super Rugby match at Twickenham last Sunday proved an on-field success, the New Zealand club says it was not the financial lifeline it hoped for in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
"The team remains homeless and cash-strapped after Christchurch's AMI Stadium was damaged in the February 22 tremor which claimed more than 160 lives, forcing it to host "home" matches in venues holding barely 10,000 fans.
"The match at London's famous Twickenham, where the Crusaders emerged 44-28 victors in a pulsating clash with South Africa's Sharks, was supposed to shore up the club's books after the quake.
"However, the 35,094 crowd at the first Super rugby match ever played outside the southern hemisphere fell well short of the 55,000 anticipated, leaving the the competition's most successful team in a financial hole."
The Daily Express' Steve Bale reports from Leicester's training base as the Tigers raise their game for the season run-in.
"It is a hard school, but its proof is in the trophies, when [Leicester coach Richard] Cockerill was a Leicester and England hooker more than a decade ago, as well as now as a coach whose stock is constantly rising.
Losing Flood, Youngs, Louis Deacon or Tom Croft to England is virtually ignored, whereas when Jim Mallinder lost Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood from Northampton, their absence was insurmountable.
“The thing for me – and it was the same when I was a player here – is that the attitude of the coaches has to be positive. Whoever you have available you are going to pick a side you know can win,” said Cockerill.
“If we are sending that message as coaches, you have half a chance the players will follow you. I say a thousand times in the Six Nations or autumn Tests I don’t care who isn’t here. All I care about is the people in the room who will play or train for us today.”
"It is powerful, incessantly positive and helps explain how nominally shadow Leicester sides can still eke out their victories, because the players believe it no less fervently."
The Rugby Football Union intends to hand in a petition to No 10 Downing Street next month calling for a major facelift of Twickenham station amid fears it will not be “fit for purpose” by the time England host the World Cup in 2015, the Daily Telegraph reports.
"The RFU already has more than 1,500 signatures on the petition, which the governing body sees as a last-ditch resort to force action on the issue, which has stalled because of planning issues with the London Borough of Richmond and Twickenham Council.
"Network Rail has committed to a plan to improve the south-west London station and the rolling stock in time for the start of the eight-week tournament in 2015, during which at least 600,000 supporters are expected to visit Twickenham Stadium. The RFU feels, however, that without significant investment in the station’s infrastructure, which is already in a state of disrepair, it will not cope with such high passenger numbers.
“The vast majority of the fans who will travel to Twickenham for this event will arrive by train and will use Twickenham station,” an RFU source said. “While London has invested heavily in infrastructure for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 with state-of-the-art transport links and improved stations in and around the Olympic Park, Twickenham station has yet to see any such improvements."
Glasgow coach Sean Lineen was today emerging as a possible fill for the vacant coaching position at Edinburgh Rugby as the USA Eagles team warned not to expect favourite Eddie O'Sullivan to become available quickly. The Scotsman's Bill Lothian reports.
"Since the decision by interim coach Nick Scrivener to withdraw his application yesterday, speculation has centred on ex-Ireland coach O'Sullivan who then crossed the Atlantic to pursue his career.
"A statement from US Rugby in response to an inquiry from the Evening News said: "Eddie is contracted until after the Rugby World Cup (this Autumn) and is 100 per cent focused on preparing the Eagles. He's a great coach, so it's not surprising that people are trying to get him."
"Meanwhile, as Lineen began to be linked with Bath where head coach Steve Meehan will soon leave, the possibility of a move back along the M8 to Edinburgh for the current Glasgow coach appeared increasingly like a way of keeping the former grand slam centre in the Scottish game.
"Lineen has always lived in the Capital since arriving from New Zealand in the late 1980s and would be widely welcomed here as an ideal fit after a turbulent season at Glasgow."
Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times found that watching Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams at Twickenham again underlined the imposing scale of the task facing New Zealand’s World Cup opponents.
"The performance and the game of the weekend, by some considerable distance, was the Crusaders’ five tries to four win over the Sharks at Twickenham in aid of the Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. Coming a week after the conclusion of the Six Nations, this was rubbing Europe’s noses in it.
"Admittedly, it helps when conditions were perfect, they had a top Southern Hemisphere referee in Steve Walsh and the hindmost foot/offside line was obeyed/enforced. (Why don’t European referees and their assistants pay more heed to this?) The Crusaders had their bonus point by the 32nd minute thanks to sublime, yet simple, attacking rugby, target runners invariably coming from deep and ditto support runners (especially their wingers and fullback), who poured through the middle to feed off the best outhalf and inside centre combination in the world, for if Sonny Bill Williams doesn’t open you up, Dan the Man Carter will.
"Williams is almost the perfect amalgam of pace, power, footwork and handling, particularly that bear-like right paw of his with which he confounds conventional coaching by holding the ball out in front of him one-handed. It’s doubtful whether the game has ever seen a better offloader out of the tackle."
Writing in The Independent, Peter Bills salutes the Crusaders for producing a thrilling exhibition of back-line brilliance in London at the weekend.
"The creative back line skills of the Crusaders in the highly revealing Super 15 game at Twickenham on Sunday were better than almost anything I have seen in world rugby since the French at the start of the 1970s.
"The intuitive ball skills, the ability to find space, make the ball do the work and do the basics crisply and efficiently hallmarked this outstanding performance. There have, of course, been some superbly talented threequarters in world rugby over the course of the last 40 years. The British & Irish Lions’ back line of 1971 in New Zealand, for example, was exceptional.
"But I can’t remember players from a single country combining to perform so brilliantly in back line play since the French at the start of the 1970s. In that era, they had ball players of genius like Jo Maso and Pierre Villepreux, and they supplemented them with the likes of Jean Trillo, Jean Pierre Lux, Roger Bourgarel, Jean Sillieres and Jean-Louis Berot."
We need Sevens involvement far more than they will ever need us
In his weekly column in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward welcomes the arrival of the Shamrock Warriors but casts doubt over the Irish Rugby Football Union's committment to Sevens rugby.
"Yesterday in Dublin saw the launch of the Shamrock Warriors as the first 'recognised' Sevens rugby club in Ireland.
"Former Ulster and Leinster coach Matt Williams will act as its technical director, while former St Mary's out-half Fergal Campion coaches the men's squad and ex-Ireland player Sarah Jane Belton takes charge of the women's team.
"Former Ireland wing Denis Hickie has an honorary chairman role in the new initiative dedicated exclusively -- we are assured -- to the long overdue development of the abbreviated game in this country.
"As someone who believes wholeheartedly in the truncated version of the game and cannot understand why we let IRB Sevens involvement pass us by, I am sceptical about the IRFU's commitment to the Sevens game."
The Sydney Morning Herald's Marc Hinton believes All Blacks coach Graham Henry has plenty to smile about following the Crusaders eye-catching showing against The Sharks at Twickenham.
"The sight of Carter slipping into his best form would have been worth a line or two. Not that the master five-eighths is under any sort of selection threat - far from it - but it's always nice when your key men confirm their class.
"Carter certainly did that. His running and distribution game was quite magnificent, his kicking was perfect and his combination with Sonny Bill Williams has now reached a level of such fluency that it must start to have major All Black implications.
"As good a soldier as Ma'a Nonu has been, how can Henry not now be tempted to leave this Crusaders five-eighths pairing intact come the international programme?
"Williams is certainly playing his part in that equation. Another storming display would have done nothing to dampen the hysteria around this fabulous athlete, and it's hard to see how he does not now have the inside running on that black No 12 jersey."
Writing in the Sunday Herald, Gregor Paul believes injured Blues lock Ali Williams could still force his way into the World Cup reckoning.
"Far from panicking at the latest injury to Ali Williams, the All Black coaches believe the country's most experienced lock has ample time to force his way into World Cup contention.
"Currently sidelined for at least another two, possibly three weeks by a torn hamstring, Williams is desperate to regain his All Black jersey but is facing a race against time to prove his form.
"He managed four rounds before his latest setback and although Williams didn't stand out, All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen says he saw enough to believe Williams is on track and capable of reaching the end of the season in the sort of form that will make him hard to leave out of the national squad."
The Irish Times' Linley MacKenzie reports as Aironi make history with their first Magners League victory over Connacht.
"Aironi became the third side to inflict defeat on Connacht in Italy this season, but this was one that many saw coming and had hoped to avoid.
"With the Italians’ continuing improvement throughout the season, Connacht captain John Muldoon says his team were punished for not giving Aironi the necessary respect despite their close encounter in the Sportsground two weeks earlier.
“Aironi have shown a marked improvement throughout the season and everyone knew they were going to beat a team at some stage. Unfortunately, individually and collectively, we made too many errors and you cannot afford to do that against any team in the league.”
The Irish Times' Gavin Cummiskey reports as Blackrock College beat St Michael’s College in the Leinster Junior Cup Final.
"The Battle of the Rock road. An instant classic due to the manner victory was achieved, this captivating match will always be remembered for the heroics on both sides.
"St Michael’s have now lost five successive Junior Cup finals. It is a depressing statistic but merely enhances the quality of player being continually produced by the Dublin 4 rugby nursery.
"Blackrock made it 46 Junior titles yesterday and on this evidence the recent dip in senior success will not continue for much longer. The massive ’Rock pack looked poised to steamroll over their smaller opponents in the opening exchanges. The key for St Michael’s was to hang on in there during those intense opening assaults."
Shaun Edwards, the Wales defence coach, on Sunday denied butting colleague Fergus Connolly in the aftermath of Wales’s Six Nations Championship victory over Ireland earlier this month. The Daily Telegraph's Graham Clutton reports.
"Edwards, who combines his Welsh role with his job as head coach to Wasps, confirmed the incident was sparked over a well-known Irish folk song sung on the Wales team bus on the way back from the after-match dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff.
"It has been alleged that Edwards replaced the words “I’ve been a wild rover for many a year” with the phrase “I’ve been a wife beater for many a year”. Connolly is understood to have remonstrated with Edwards over his rendition.
"In the article Edwards was quoted as saying: “Fergus got the wrong end of the stick with a song which was a bit of fun with the lads. He approached me afterwards clearly annoyed and there was an altercation; our heads may have touched because we were standing so close to each other, but I definitely did not headbutt him."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Brian Moore believes England manager Martin Johnson running out of time to hone his Rugby World Cup 2011 squad.
"The No 8 is a difficult issue. Nick Easter needs to have a specific rival, not ones who are good utility back-row players such as James Haskell.
"While Haskell did well to cover for Lewis Moody in the Six Nations, he should ideally be considered for one position so that he and England can get the best out of him specialising and putting pressure on any other contenders.
"If Johnson demarcates Haskell’s candidacy and hastens the playing qualification of Kiwi Thomas Waldrom, the Leicester No 8, he can then tick off another selection problem.
This would leave the No 7 issue.
"Moody is a converted openside and historically has injury problems. He undoubtedly competes with the best when fit but the reality is that Johnson needs two quality rivals for Moody. Though Haskell could be asked to specialise in this position, this is not the answer.
"Hendre Fourie has not been given sufficient game time from which a proper assessment can be made and Tom Rees, of Wasps, is injured and unlikely to be properly fit for World Cup consideration – hence the problem remains."
The Guardian's Rob Kitson reports from the Crusaders' impressive Super Rugby victory over The Sharks at Twickenham.
"Adversity brings out the best in some people. It will take more than a decent 80 minutes of rugby to rebuild the ruins of central Christchurch but a spectacular win for the Crusaders achieved some important goals in the London sunshine. The occasion not only raised £175,000 in ticket revenue alone to help victims of last month's earthquake but will have done almost as much for the morale of those clearing up the mess.
"Last but by no means least this was the day when several fond, smug northern hemisphere assumptions were systematically torn apart. Yes, the weather was glorious and conditions perfect for running rugby. Yes, there were 22 internationals on the field at kick-off. Yes, a few tackles went astray. But long before the Crusaders wing Sean Maitland scored the decisive ninth try of a pulsating match it was equally clear that those who reckon the Super 15 has nothing to teach its European counterparts inhabit the myopic land of cloudy cuckoos."
In the Sunday Telegraph Ian Chadband talks to Crusaders and All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams about boxing, rugby and the controversy that filled his early years.
"Sonny Bill Williams was once named the most hated man in Australia – “Money Bill” – when he walked out on the ARL (Australian Rugby League) and took the Toulon Euro, but he still ended up smiling. He’s been caught up in all manner of controversy, from his admission of a drink problem in his younger days to his infamous tryst in a Sydney loo with an Aussie ‘ironwoman’ triathlete, but everyone ends up forgiving him everything. That’s because he seems likeable, irrepressible and exudes, well, a whiff of superstar quality.
“There are a lot of things I want to achieve in rugby and boxing and if I just sit here and think about those times when I was more hated than the Bali bomber, I am not going to get anywhere in life,” he says, his melodramatic comparison drawing laughter from his audience. The Bali bomber?"
Jamie Pandaram dismisses the hype surrounding England’s Six Nations campaign in the Sydney Morning Herald and insists they have no chance of winning the World Cup.
"England to win the World Cup? No way.
There were signs during last year's tours by Australia and New Zealand that England could be the World Cup smokies and even emulate their predecessors of 2003 - a theory that grew as they won their first four Six Nations games - but upon recent research it doesn't stack up.
Both teams won the Six Nations, true, and have Martin Johnson in the ranks, but that is roughly where the similarities end."
Bath prop David Flatman provides an insight into the glamorous life of professional rugby players when they are given a mid-season break in the Independent on Sunday.
"When we were told a month or so ago that 10 whole days off were just around the corner, I expected the team room to be awash with boyish activity; amplified conversations about dream destinations and likely weather conditions, how many pairs of Speedos might be needed and a general commitment to blow any budgets.
"I asked one of our youngest and most handsome players in what country he intended to cut loose and was a bit shocked by the answer: "Probably stick around here I expect, mate," he said. "Got a dog now, haven't I?"
Come the end of the season, though, it will be nice to properly let our hair down (cue obvious gags). My old mate Mike Tindall is marrying some girl from Gloucestershire, and that stag do won't run itself."
In the Wales on Sunday, Gloucester fly-half Nicky Robinson tells Phil Blanche that he has not given up hope of breaking back into the Wales set-up in time for the World Cup in September.
“I haven’t had any contact with the Wales management, but I’ve seen them select Andy Powell and Dwayne Peel in the Six Nations," says Robinson. “I’m sure that if they want to pick other players from outside Wales, they will.
“Personally, I hope there is an involvement for me in the future, preferably this year. I will never give up on that. I will keep training and playing hard and pushing myself to be an international player."
In the Irish Independent Neil Francis hails the impact of Miker Ross in stabilising Ireland's previously shaky foundations.
"Mike Ross has this facility to tuck his right shoulder tight to his opponent and at the same time being square and giving his second row ample buttock to work behind. Very often a tighthead might have his opponent where he wants him but the way his arse is positioned might mean that his second row can't get 100 per cent of his weight and thrust behind him and the scrum as a whole might not be as solid as it should be, or might not be able to put forward pressure on.
Ross ticks all the boxes. It means the team can plan. We can think about scoring off scrum ball again. It means Kidney and Smal get to sleep at night and the quid pro quo reduces as they belatedly get to work on Ross's body shape and his tackle count."
In the Independent Chris Hewett speculates whether Super Rugby clash between the Crusaders match and the Sharks at Twickenham on Sunday will reveal the competition to be trully super or merely superficial.
"There have been times over the last 15 years when oval-ball aficionados in the British Isles – indeed, in Europe as a whole – felt entirely justified in viewing southern hemisphere Super Rugby, in its many numerical manifestations, with the deepest suspicion. Cavalier refereeing, a blatant disregard for the basic tenets of the sport, the sacrificing of "real" union on the altar of mass entertainment... all these alleged sporting outrages left traditionalists from the old country feeling about as comfortable as a fish in a tree. Forget "super", they said, and try "superficial" instead…
Tomorrow afternoon, upwards of 40,000 spectators – maybe even 50,000, depending on the size of the last-minute walk-up to the Twickenham turnstiles – will watch two of the leading exponents of southern hemisphere franchise rugby, the Christchurch-based Crusaders and the Durban-based Sharks, strip layers from each other in the recently expanded Super 15 tournament."
Wynne Gray in the New Zealand Herald runs his rule over New Zealand's selection options beyond the issue of who should be No.2 to Dan Carter.
"Much of the musing midway through the Super 15 has been about how the All Black selectors will squeeze their midfield talent into a World Cup squad. It is a luxury at this stage but it only takes an injury or two to shake some of that surplus security. And damage will surely happen.
If players like Richie McCaw, Piri Weepu and Colin Slade in New Zealand, Rocky Elsom, Peter Hynes, Stephen Hoiles in Australia, Juan Smith and Tiaan Liebenberg in South Africa have yet to start their Super 15 engines, there will be others who conk out before the World Cup."
In the Scotsman Allan Massie calls for a return to the international scene for Bath's Simon Taylor.
"I would imagine that Andy Robinson and his fellow coaches have already inked in the names of pretty well the whole squad they will be taking to New Zealand, and I would hope that, given the lowly position of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the Magners League, they would suggest politely that some at least of the first-choice Scotland team be given an early holiday to refresh them for what's to follow. Unfortunately, they have no say concerning the club calls made on half their first XV.
Perhaps they will tempt Simon Taylor back into the squad. He is fitter than he has been for years, having played 18 matches for Bath this season, most of them for the full 80 minutes. He may no longer be the explosive runner of his youth, but given that we have four physically- as well as mentally - demanding pool games, his experience and defensive ability would surely be invaluable."
Tony Ward weighs up Ireland's World Cup options following their impressive win over England last weekend in the Irish Independent.
"We are a long way from being the finished article needed to compete with the Southern Hemisphere three, but as a serious work in progress Ireland have shown enough to offer real hope.
Last Saturday's superb performance against England has raised the bar and, with it, public expectation. The talk now is of a World Cup semi-final slot being the minimum requirement.
You would expect the 22 named for duty against England to travel to New Zealand. To that, add Jerry Flannery (if fit) and Tomas O'Leary alongside Wallace as specialist cover at hooker, scrum-half and out-half respectively.
Should Flannery fail to make it, then it will be Damien Varley next up, with Isaac Boss covering the base of the scrum as well. That leaves just six positions to be filled. Here is where Declan Kidney must earn his corn. Does he go for a 16-14 forward-back split, or is 17-13 the more sensible option, given the guaranteed attritional rate up front?"
Former England coach Brian Ashton analyses where England's defeat to Ireland last weekend leaves Martin Johnson's men in the Independent.
"I have to say that the problems England encountered against the Irish were also predictable: certainly, the potential for a green-shirted uprising of considerable magnitude was evident throughout the build-up to the game. It therefore became a question of people dealing not with the unexpected but of them dealing with the expected."
Writing in The Guardian, Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards reflects on a week he would rather forget.
"After a meeting in London and a few handshakes, I am still the Wales defence coach and the matter of the scuffle following the Ireland game can, I hope, be laid to rest.
"These things happen in rugby. Josh Lewsey and Danny Cipriani come to mind and stories of Leicester players knocking lumps off each other are legion. However, I admit this one was different because it was two coaches going at each other.
"As someone said at the time, an Englishman and an Irishman having a go at each other during the celebration of a Welsh victory sounds like the start of a bad joke. In fact it was a lot more serious than that. But if there is a good side to this unhappy story it is that it has helped me to focus on what I'm doing while illustrating just how much I enjoy doing it.
"As someone else said at another post-Six Nations session this week, coaching Test teams "is addictive" and, as with the England team manager Martin Johnson, it is something I'd like to do for a lot longer. Working with the best players a country has to offer – and particularly a country like Wales – is not just an honour, but I hope brings out the best in me."
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reflects on the latest battle for the Six Nations crown and suggests it is time for change.
"This was a pretty average championship and will not have the New Zealanders, Australians or South Africans dreading the inter-hemisphere contests at the World Cup. So, what can be done to quieten the southern catcalls and unfavourable comparisons with the Super 15 and Tri Nations?
"The most obvious change is the introduction of the bonus-point system that exists successfully in virtually every other rugby tournament. Too many Six Nations matches peter out tamely when, if teams were chasing a losing or four-try bonus point, the onus would be on more attacking rugby rather than merely seeing the game out.
"With the Six Nations still pulling in massive viewing figures, there exists an 'if it ain't broke' attitude on this issue, which cloaks the bigger picture.
"Another welcome change would be using the same make of ball in every match. Without having the time, or energy, to go into the commercial aspects to this problem, surely it makes sense to negate the adjustment problems that occurred in this championship, evoking memories of the infamous "pig" problems on Ireland's tour to New Zealand in 2002.
"A third change, and one not limited to the Six Nations, would be the introduction of a review system to cope with questionable decisions."
The Irish Times' Johnny Watterson talks to Leicester fullback Geordan Murphy on his recovery from injury and his hopes for the future.
"Geordan Murphy is hoping that highly specialised treatment will have accelerated the healing of his ankle enough to allow him make a claim for a World Cup place with Ireland in September.
"The 32-year-old full-back was carried off on a stretcher near the end of Leicester’s win against Northampton at Welford Road at the start of January and underwent surgery to stabilise a dislocated ankle. The screws and pins that were inserted are to come out early next month.
"The treatment, hyperbaric therapy, is an emerging medical speciality that quickens the healing process by using oxygen under pressure. The procedure, which takes place in a chamber, increases blood and oxygen supply to the wounded areas and promotes the healing process. In 2004 Manchester United’s David Beckham used similar methods when he broke a bone in his foot. “We have a chamber in our training facility at Leicester,” said Murphy. “It’s like a diving chamber where they increase the pressure and you breathe pure oxygen. I was doing that treatment for a month or so, which I think was beneficial. The doctors were happy with the way it went and thought there was improvement. But I won’t know for certain until I get the iron ware out of my ankle. I’ll have another operation on April 12th for the metal work to be taken out.”
Eddie Jones has predicted that if close friend Jake White wins the coaching job at the Brumbies, he will get rid of the existing assistant coaches.The Sydney Morning Herald's Jamie Pandaram and Rupert Guinness report.
"The forecast by Jones, a former Brumbies and Wallabies coach, brings into doubt the futures of the coaches at the ACT team: Tony Rea, Stephen Larkham, Justin Harrison and Marco Caputo.
''That's an organisational decision, but if an experienced head coach comes in to an organisation, he wants to put in his staff,'' Jones said.
"The Brumbies sacked head coach Andy Friend after just two games this season amid speculation the players led a revolt, although more recently it has been suggested that the assistant coaches played a part.
"Rea was appointed as Friend's replacement but Brumbies chief executive Andrew Fagan flew to South Africa last week to interview White for the head coach role. If appointed, White would not tolerate player pressure, said Jones - who was White's assistant during South Africa's World Cup victory in 2007."
Ruaridh Jackson's development as an international stand-off will continue back in Glasgow colours tonight as he seeks to put into practise lessons learned from his first Six Nations Championship.The Scotsman's David Ferguson reports.
"The 23-year-old made his first three Test starts for Scotland in the past month and has told Glasgow coach Sean Lineen that despite a minor knock suffered in the win over Italy he is fit and ready to go straight back into action at Firhill against Ulster tonight.
"He is probably also mindful of the competition he faces from teenage rival Duncan Weir, who has returned from a serious shoulder injury suffered playing for Scotland A in November. Jackson takes his place and DTH van der Merwe, who signed a new two-year deal this week, comes in for Hefin O'Hare.
"Announcing his line-up yesterday, Lineen said: "To have the Scotland No 10 back is really encouraging. He had a slight bang on his leg but it is fine. He is raring to go and is calling the shots this week; straight back into it with the confidence of playing the last two games for Scotland, which has helped him a lot."
Springbok lock Bakkies Botha will not change the way he plays, even though there is growing evidence that he is being targeted by citing officers. Sport24's Brendan Nel reports.
"Botha, speaking at the Blood Brothers breakfast in Pretoria – to celebrate his testimonial year with lock partner Victor Matfield – received a standing ovation when he told the crowd he would not back down from his physical approach on the field.
"But Botha did call on officials to have a look at the citing system, and he was supported by Matfield, who indicated that Botha was looked at with a different set of rules than other players.
"While Botha is known for his approach, he is seen as a serial offender and has been in the dock a number of times for foul play. He did, however, escape any punishment when charges of a dangerous tackle on scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage in last weekend’s game against the Stormers were thrown out by a SANZAR judiciary.
"“I work hard and things happen on the field. I did wrong last year and paid the price for it, but I stood up and came back from that,” Botha said in reference to his nine-week ban for head-butting All Black scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan in the Vodacom Tri Nations test in Auckland."
Writing in the Irish Independent, Peter Bills as how New Zealand's relatively small talent pool can produce so many top-class players.
"Consider these figures: New Zealand has around 120,000 registered rugby players -- 8,000 less than Japan, which is a minnow in international rugby terms.
"As for England, who always head such a list, the figure is over five times more than New Zealand -- a massive 650,000. Ireland, incidentally, has something in excess of 150,000.
"These are all approximate figures. But I'd like to know the answer to this simple question: if England has more than five times as many players as New Zealand, why is it that the latter could, right now, put four world-class centres into their Test side, whereas England don't really have one?
"I don't suggest this is a perfect science, but it seems absurd to me that a tiny country like New Zealand can find and develop so many outstanding players for one department of their international team, when the nation that is awash with players struggles to find any."
"A scrum will collapse because the directional forces - one and a half tonne in each direction - get to an impossible angle so that collapse is inevitable.
"Loose footing, feet too far back, standing too far apart, poor techniques, inability, lack of sound mind and heart all might contribute. But essentially, the physics dictates it will happen if there is mis-alignment.
"The scrum laws of today have evolved primarily to add safety to the process and assist in controlling the variables at the scrum engagement. The bit when the scrums come together has not changed a great deal. How you get to that point has.
“Crouch…..Touch…..Pause……Engage” is what is called the cadence and there are efforts worldwide to make the timing of this to be consistent and slow. This is to make the scrum entry more homogenous and safe.
"What is interesting is that in some games there are many collapses and in some games there are none."
John Steele, the Rugby Football Union chief executive, insisted on Wednesday that Martin Johnson will not be on trial for his job at this year’s Rugby World Cup, the Daily Telegraph's Mick Cleary reports.
"Steele gave a clear indication of his admiration for the job Johnson was doing, making it inconceivable that there would be any parting of the ways, declaring that he had been “very impressed”, with what Johnson has done with England over the last 12 months.
"As Steele announced the appointment of Rob Andrew to the newly-created post of director of rugby operations, he was at pains to stress that Johnson’s role would not be undermined by the arrival of a performance director, another new position and one for which Sir Clive Woodward’s name has featured prominently.
“No, no,” said Steele when asked if Johnson was on trial. “What we’re trying to do here is get out of the cycle of short-term reaction.
"I’ve spoken to Martin and he’s very happy to talk post the World Cup. Of course, we wouldn’t want to be left high and dry in any regard. But a World Cup is a natural crossroads. There is plenty of evidence that early reviews can get ahead of themselves."
Sport24's Rob Houwing believes that SANZAR owe the Cheetahs a debt of thanks following their upset victory over the Waratahs.
"Was it simply an aberration? Clearly the Waratahs think so, because I read in the Sydney Morning Herald afterwards that the players themselves convened a rare “truth session” on the Monday.
"And back-rower Ben Mowen conceded: “The way we were beaten suggests we did take them for granted.”
"Never mind all that: the mere fact that this result actually happened would have caused widespread relief, I imagine, among SANZAR officials (or at least those without real or sentimental links to the Waratahs).
"And yes, it was enough to make me rethink for the moment my own intention to lament an increased watering-down of this competition.
"I do rather hope it serves as a catalyst now for other “minnows” like the Lions and Rebels (especially when they step on long-haul flights) to wish to emulate the Cheetahs for shock factor against supposed big guns.
"Super Rugby needs, from time to time, outcomes like Waratahs 3 Cheetahs 23 if it is going to thrive down the line."
Gavin Rich looks at the importance of youth development following the Stormers' Super Rugby victory over the Bulls on Supersport.
"Coach Allister Coetzee and the players deservedly took a lot of credit for the Stormers’ famous drought-breaking win over the Vodacom Bulls last weekend, but a statement from skipper Jean de Villiers inadvertently pointed to someone else who should be lauded for his massive role in the turn-around.
“The age-group teams are enjoying great success and a lot of those players are now coming through into the senior team,” said De Villiers.
“The injection of new blood has been refreshing and it has brought a fresh attitude. Someone like Gary van Aswegen (last year’s WP under-21 flyhalf who sat on the bench at Loftus) has never lost against the Bulls. So for him there is no baggage when he plays against them.”
As thoughts turn to domestic matters, Donnchadh Boyle flags up some players for Declan Kidney to keep an eye on in The Irish Independent.
"With memories of Ireland's epic derailment of England's Grand Slam hopes still burning brightly, the focus switches back to the Magners League this week, with all four provinces in rude health heading into the final stretch.
"Munster, Leinster and Ulster occupy three of the four semi-final positions along with the second-placed Ospreys, while Connacht are well on track to finish off the foot of the table for the first time since the 2006/07 season, when the now defunct Scottish Borders propped up the league.
"Many of the front-line Irish players are not expected to return to action until the Magners League matches on the weekend of April 1-3, which include Leinster's trip to Munster and is a week before the Heineken and Challenge Cup quarter-finals."
Peter Bills laments the state of play in the Six Nations as thoughts turn to the Rugby World Cup in The Independent.
"If ever the 6 Nations rugby championship was a mixed bag it was in 2011. But the overriding message to emerge from five weekends of hectic international action is that the leading countries of the southern hemisphere have little to fear at this year’s World Cup.
"The overall standard of rugby played was at best ordinary, but more often poor. In a technical sense, it was often lamentable. Scotland v Italy in Edinburgh last Saturday looked as though it was being played at half pace.
"Much had been made of England’s so-called renaissance. Alas, it lasted only until Dublin when the Irish, as delightfully perverse as ever, produced the performance of the entire championship to sweep away any prospect of an England Grand Slam."
Chris Hewett reviews the various fortunes of the combatants following the Six Nations in The Independent, with some of the southern hemisphere's finest all set to light up Twickenham.
"The list of people England's dejected players would rather not see just at the moment is very long indeed, with the stellar All Black backs Daniel Carter and Sonny Bill Williams occupying positions close to the top. And who are the men heading for London as we speak?
"That would be Daniel Carter and Sonny Bill Williams, both of whom are expected to break new ground at Twickenham this coming weekend by playing for the Christchurch-based Crusaders against the Durban-based Sharks in the first Super 15 match ever to be staged in Europe. What better place for the princes of the game to show the red rose paupers how to do it properly.
"And before the Celts start chuckling – not to mention the French and the Italians – will not the likes of Carter and Williams, backed up by an Israel Dagg here, a Kieran Read there and a Brad Thorn somewhere else, show them a thing or two?"
Tony Ward argues that the IRFU have got it just right in waiting until fter the World Cup to offer Declan Kidney any new deal in The Irish Independent.
"We are an amazing little nation when it comes to extremes. Win and we are the best in the world; lose and we are the worst, devoid of hope and without any possibility of ever finding our way back.
"Both viewpoints are, of course, nonsense, with the truth as ever lying somewhere in between. In 2009 we won a Grand Slam and Championship which we could have lost.
"Two years on and we have fallen short in our bid for the same two titles, which we might well have won. The margins between winning and losing at the highest level are that thin. Whatever your take on Declan Kidney, you can't but admire the humility with which he goes about his business."
With the Six Nations over and domestic issues back on the table for the time being, Robert Kitson argues that player welfare is being lost in the mix in The Guardian.
"Imagine your name is Ben Youngs. You have just completed your first full Six Nations season as a regular starter for England. Mostly it has been fun and hugely rewarding but the past fortnight has been tougher. A heavy defeat in Ireland, a high-profile yellow card, increasing scrutiny on your personal performance etc etc. After seven months of top-level rugby already this season, you could probably do with a rest.
"And then you look at the calendar. Leicester want you back pronto to assess your state of readiness to face Bath in a big Aviva Premiership game this Saturday. You don't want to let them down or risk being called a big shot. You also want to get back on the horse and make amends for the Irish debacle. Not far down the track, though, is an even bigger fixture, a return trip to Dublin to play Leinster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals."
Mick Cleary conceded that the Six Nations is lagging behind its southern hemisphere counterpart in terms of quality, but remains convinced that it comes out on top in terms of drama in The Daily Telegraph.
"Truly, these are not Grand Slam men as was proven, nor do they approach the class of ’03 in status as another Rugby World Cup looms.
"England are a middling side in what was a middling championship, streaked with drama but not defined by quality. The southern superpowers rest easy in their beds.
"And yet. If there was one feature of the tournament that will have been noted by the rest of the world it is this: that teams from this part of the planet rugby are cussed, hard-nosed and elemental buggers, ones that can by sheer force of will alone confound the form book."
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reflects on Ireland's spectacular return to form at the expense of England in Dublin.
"Not so much the Grand Slam, more the Grand Slap. Slams don’t come easily of course, and nothing underlined that more than Ireland’s sequence of hard-earned wins in 2009. But, frankly, Saturday’s 24-8 overturning of the Chariot merely underlined what a travesty it would have been if England had emulated the class of ’03.
"What it perhaps also demonstrated is that if any team should have emulated previous Slam winners, it was Ireland. Retaining many of the core elements of their class of ’09, and adding to it, this performance finally showed what this team is capable of.
"It was probably the performance of the 2011 Six Nations, and if Ireland had sustained this kind of intensity, focus and heads-up rugby in their previous four performances, they’d have walked it."
The Western Mail's Paul Abbandonato reveals the reason behind Shaun Edwards' absence from Wales' Six Nations defeat to France in Paris.
"Edwards was suspended from Wales’ Six Nations clash with France after a heated bust-up over the singing of an Irish folk song on the team bus, the Western Mail can reveal today.
"Warren Gatland’s No 2 missed the 28-9 defeat in Paris after he and another member of the Wales back-room staff, sports scientist Fergus Connolly, were each disciplined through the team’s code of conduct procedure.
"We have learned the two men exchanged words over the song as the Welsh team were travelling back to their Vale of Glamorgan HQ after the thrilling 19-13 triumph over Brian O’Driscoll’s Ireland at the Millennium Stadium the previous Saturday.
"The incident spilt over once the team bus arrived at the Vale and Gatland decided he was compelled to take disciplinary action."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Brian Moore reflects on England's crushing defeat to Ireland.
"Had you asked Martin Johnson and his England team before the start of the Six Nations if winning it without a Grand Slam would represent adequate progress from the autumn, they would undoubtedly have said yes.
"...The pressure of the occasion and from their opponents caused uncharacteristic English ill-discipline. They gave up nine points early on from stupid penalties and added the brainless sin-binning of Ben Youngs for good measure. This defeat will be a painful, possibly necessary lesson in the unforgiving nature of Test rugby for those lacking experience in the England camp, players and management.
"Though James Haskell was one of England’s best forwards in the tournament, a specialist openside is needed against quality back rows. England’s midfield is defensively sound but no more and Shontayne Hape has made no discernable impression in five games.
"Whilst you cannot fault the physical commitment of England’s pack, the Irish game apart, there are technical aspects of their play that need to be addressed. Concentration at every set-piece is essential, particularly at scrums from which they intend to launch set moves."
The Scotsman's David Ferguson reports as Scotland bring the curtain down on their Six Nations campaign with victory over Italy.
"Looking at the final table, this one was worse than the last, his first at the Scotland helm, because there was no Calcutta Cup draw to add so only points difference kept his side from claiming another Wooden Spoon for last place.
"Yet, despite five championships on the trot now, and six in the last seven, where Scotland have under-performed and failed to take advantage of a field in which no nation was streets ahead of the others, Robinson allowed himself a wry smile.
"This was not what he envisaged when he spoke confidently about his team at January's Six Nations launch in London, and there has to be a degree of shame about the manner in which they went through the tournament, playing at varying levels below standard. But, after an uplifting finish, Robinson does not believe they are any worse than they were at the start of the Six Nations. Indeed, now looking ahead to the World Cup, he believes their lessons have been more valuable than those received by others in the championship.
"What is more, he believes Scotland can still win their pool in the Rugby World Cup in September, a group featuring Romania, Georgia, Argentina and England, and progress to the quarter-finals to meet the runners-up from a pool including New Zealand and France."
The Independent's Robin Scott-Elliot offers a view from the sofa of the Six Nations finale.
The Six Nations has done its bit to entertain, although Saturday's elongated finale meant sitting through more crouch, touch, engage than is natural, unless you are Abbey Clancy. The strength of the tournament is that the rules can remain a mystery – it is comforting that the players don't really seem to know either – yet the rousing atmosphere that accompanies any England trip to be roundly abused by Celts or Gauls make it an event. To BBC Sport it is a Big Event so on Saturday they did what they always do to mark these occasions; poetry and cliché. Because it was a Really Big Event they combined the two.
"With Des Lynan having never returned the BBC library copy of Kipling, they came up with The Victor by CW Longenecker, who may not actually exist according to extensive research, or 10 minutes on Google. It consists of lines like "If you think you are beaten, you are", and was portentously delivered by a succession of Beeb pundits with serious faces and current players. Then it was into the build-up proper. "Now is the hour," said someone. "Big day for big men," suggested someone else. "Treat it like any other game," warned another."
Losing both the tactical and physical battles in Dublin showed where Martin Johnson must find improvement in his squad, according to The Guardian's Paul Rees.
"1. Don't pass just for the sake of it - Keith Earls was the fourth fullback used by Ireland this season, a player more used to playing on the wing than full-back. He did not have to make a tackle all evening, nor wait underneath a high ball as the hooves of white-shirted figures pounded closer to him. England played the passing game they have adopted in the last year, even though they were getting held up in the tackle and either turned over or slowed down. It became movement for movement's sake, attacking defenders rather than space, while Ireland in contrast recognised when to kick or break, colour against monochrome.
"...4. Invention is a key virtue - The statistics of the respective half-backs on Saturday were revealing. Ireland's ran and kicked more than their counterparts, while England's invariably passed and their midfield lacked the quick thinking of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy."
In the Sunday Telegraph Brendan Gallagher claims that Ireland, not England, will go to the World Cup in best shape after they shattered England's Grand Slam ambitions in Dublin.
"In truth, England didn't come anywhere near winning a Grand Slam, they were almost embarrassingly off the pace in Dublin and should have lost by 30 points or more.
That is the chief memory they will take out of the 2011 Championship.
No, the team that came nearest to winning the Grand Slam was actually third-placed Ireland, and that's an Ireland that were only able to engage top gear in short bursts as they experiment with new players and systems ahead of the World Cup.
With Ireland you know for a fact that there is much more to come, with England you wonder."
Patrick Collins, writing in the Mail on Sunday, claims England have little hope of lifting the World Cup in New Zealand and suggests their defeat in Dublin was born out of complacency.
"It was the seventh Irish success in the past eight meetings between the countries, and it was possibly the most overwhelming.
From first to last, Ireland dictated; their strategy smarter, their finishing more precise, their speed at the breakdown quite breathtaking. And while the Irish excelled, England never offered the ghost of a challenge, never seemed remotely capable of competing.
The notion that this team might have a World Cup win in their locker was not being loudly canvassed in the Irish capital last night after such a beating.
So now will begin a search for explanations, and some of them will involve the bruising of egos. There have been hints these past few weeks that this English side were becoming a little too pleased with themselves."
In the Independent on Sunday, though, Bath prop David Flatman insists England's "exotic" characters are the reason for their resurgence and the primary sources for English optimism.
"There is, without question, a sense that the hard times have now been overcome, and now maybe, just maybe, we can chalk those days down to experience. Let's call them character-building.
In the current squad you have guys like Chris Ashton who, as we have said before on these pages, just seems to love life – and this is infectious. I defy anyone not to smile around this guy; just watching him for five minutes is good enough. He's one of those types who makes you feel guilty for being grumpy and so is invaluable to his manager.
So let's continue to work hard. After all, little was achieved without elbow grease. But let us not forget the value of different personalities in this game. Yes, there is a place for robots, but there is room for the more exotic fruits, too."
Former Wales playmakers Barry John delivers verdict on the Welsh campaign and bemoans the lack of flair in Warren Gatland’s current crop in Wales on Sunday.
"It is a step forward after the disappointment of the results in the autumn Test series but there is still something lacking in the Welsh performances. Test match rugby is all about winning, I know that, but there is a serious lack of creativity about Wales at the moment.
Wales are all huff and puff and seem to play rugby by numbers. They can handle the rough stuff and sometimes seem to actively look for it, rather than the spaces on a rugby pitch.
Players like James Hook, Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Mike Phillips are all exciting and creative players. But Wales’ attack is frustratingly lukewarm and there seems to be no real penetration or ability to read what is in front of them."
Writing for The Scotsman, former captain Andy Nicol says that rookie lock Richie Gray was once again Scotland’s star player during their defeat of Italy at Murrayfield.
"As well as these players played, Richie Gray was the stand-out player for me. He stole three or four balls at the lineout, he tackled like a back-rower and carried the ball with real purpose to set up good opportunities for Scotland.
He has been Scotland's best player in the RBS Six Nations by some distance and it has been great to see. There is no doubt in my mind that, if the Lions were touring this summer, then this young man from Glasgow would be on the plane. He has been outstanding in every game he has played and for a man so young to have made such an impact in a tournament such as this is incredible."
Jamie Pandaram in the Sydney Morning Herald reflects on one of the Waratahs' most embarrassing defeat after their loss to the Cheetahs this weekend.
"The Waratahs suffered one of their most embarrassing defeats when they were shocked by the previously winless Cheetahs last night, and have now slipped from the top of the Australian Super Rugby conference.
The Waratahs have lost successive matches, separated by the bye last week, and have much to fix before they travel to Canberra to tackle the Brumbies next weekend.
Their performance was riddled by handling errors, loose passing and turnovers, and the Waratahs were subjected to jeering from their own crowd of 15,849 as impatience grew and time ran out."
In the New Zealand Herald Paul Gregor weighs up the options for the All Blacks should Dan Carter succumb to injury prior to the World Cup.
"Implicit in the conjecture about who is the right choice to back up Daniel Carter is the conviction that whoever gets the nod will actually be up to the job.
What if it turns out that those aspiring to be his deputy just aren't good enough to play test football?
Which is why Luke McAlister, the longer the season goes on, looks more and more like the best of the aspiring bunch. He has 30 test caps. He can kick goals and he can break from a standing start. His kicking game is there and he has the confidence to back himself."
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley previews the Six Nations showdown between Ireland and England in Dublin.
"This is it, the big one. It always is. Alas, only one of the protagonists has reached this climactic point with the grand prize at stake, but even if it were played with a beachball in front of two men and a dog, Ireland v England will always have a resonance.
"The sight of the English chariot chugging into town could be just what the doctor ordered for this spluttering Irish team. Maybe we are deluded, but they still look the better team, and are both older (average 28 as against England’s 26) and wiser (622 caps to 314).
"Of course, England’s lack of experience can also mean a lack of mental baggage. And there’s probably no better man to have in their corner than Martin Johnson, the Slam and World Cup-winning captain of ’03 and one of the truly outstanding figures in the global game over the last 15 years.
"Perhaps Johnson was playing mind games yesterday when he suggested Ireland were the ones under pressure, with England merely excited by their sense of opportunity."
Writing in The Scotsman, Scotland captain Al Kellock sounds a rallying call ahead of the wooden spoon decider against Italy.
"This is where we are. You can win or lose international games due to small things, and we have not played well enough to win so far. We are playing for Scotland today, I am captaining Scotland today and we will go out and give everything for the 80 minutes.
"We have talked about confidence, but I feel a different confidence now. It's more a knowledge. We know that we have been good enough to win games, but we know more about why it hasn't clicked.
"We have taken a lot of confidence from the Calcutta Cup match, where we closed the gap on an England team playing its best for some time and odds-on for the Grand Slam later today. Still we came home without the victory that we all play for, and that supporters need to keep believing we can deliver.
"I could talk about how the training has been great again, even though it's been less physical in the shorter time we've had to prepare this week, and how the talk has been very positive right through the squad and coaches, but I'm not a big fan of talking. It is about what we do on the park in the 80 minutes and nothing else."
England boss Martin Johnson is backing his team to succeed on the stage where he led them to their last title. The Independent's Chris Hewett reports.
"He [Johnson] has had his share of luck, both politically – the top brass of the Rugby Football Union, whose behaviour in establishing the Johnson regime in 2008 was nothing short of despicable, have cut him an awful lot of slack over the past three years – and in terms of personnel. When the former captain succeeded Brian Ashton as head cook and bottlewasher, players as good as Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole and Tom Wood, all of whom start today (not to mention Courtney Lawes, who does not) were not even twinkles in the selectors' eyes. But in abandoning his initial heavy-handed approach to team management and lightening his touch, Johnson has shown himself to be more adaptable than anyone dared imagine during the first, gruesome 18 months of his stewardship.
"...Yet there is no one better placed than Johnson to talk meaningfully in the hours before kick-off here, for he knows what it is to secure a Grand Slam on this age-old rectangle of grass. Eight years ago, a few months before the World Cup triumph, he summoned from his playing colleagues one of the finest England performances in living memory: an overwhelmingly impressive, five-try, 42-6 victory over a distinctly useful Irish side who also happened to be chasing the Slam that day."
England team manager Martin Johnson caused a fuss and sealed a slam in Dublin eight years ago. Now he's back for more of the same, so writes The Guardian's Rob Kitson.
"Eight years is virtually a lifetime in rugby. When England won their last grand slam, on 30 March 2003, no one had heard of The X Factor, David Cameron, Lady Gaga or Chris Ashton. Martin Johnson was still lacing up his boots each week and Clive Woodward was not yet a knight of the realm. The curiosity is not that England are chasing another grand slam in Dublin, but that it has taken so long for them to get back to where they once belonged.
"Does Six Nations nirvana await at the Aviva Stadium, the new venue on the site of evocative old Lansdowne Road? It is no sure thing. Ireland have been unlucky in this championship, victims of one glaring missed tackle and a refereeing howler. This could easily be 2001 all over again, when another unbeaten England team led by a stand-in captain, Matt Dawson, were turned over. The memory of Andy Robinson, then England's forwards coach, walking out into the carpark, pressing two fingers against his temple and pulling an imaginary trigger remains fresh."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney's selection policy shows lack of clear plan and progress, according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"In contrast, one suspects that Declan Kidney's team is one defeat away from disarray and a descent into the free fall that precipitated the disaster in the last World Cup.
"The selection of Jonny Sexton is not an issue of kicking the ball, but rather suggests that the coach does not know who his number one out-half is and, by definition, the team's strategic objective. I cannot remember a case where the coach fiddled with such a crucial selection so much.
"More worrying still is that the squad -- after a campaign that has been marked by mediocrity, indecision and lack of skill -- shows no real change. If Kidney were a penitent in Confession, he would not receive forgiveness as he shows no firm purpose of amendment. He is wrong about Ronan O'Gara, stubborn about Paddy Wallace and irresponsible about Keith Earls.
"There is neither rhyme nor reason to the selection of Wallace on the bench. Not because he butchered a match-winning situation, but because he only covers centre, which is already adequately covered by Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Earls. An injury to a wing or full-back this afternoon will mean that the backline instantly becomes a makeshift unit -- the scenario that no doubt influenced Kidney's thinking when Luke Fitzgerald was injured or having a nightmare game, or both, against Wales."
England plan to keep the ball in play in their grand slam quest but Ireland will go the other way and hoof it into touch, according to Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards in his latest column for The Guardian.
"England's target will be to take the power from the legs of Ireland's big ball carriers such as Cian Healy, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien. Early on they'll drive a few lineouts, but the gameplan will be to keep the ball in play. Ireland will go the other way and hoof the ball into touch – and probably row Z at that after last Saturday – to stop England's back three running back at them, something Mark Cueto, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden have done since the opening night of the championship when they came down to Cardiff.
"The stats tell the tale better than I can: against England, Wales had four lineouts, last Saturday against the Irish we had 19. Point made?
"I know Declan Kidney is starting with Jonathan Sexton this week, rather than Ronan O'Gara, but I can't see Ireland running the tactical risk of playing into England's hands. Obviously Kidney is looking towards the World Cup when he selects Sexton, but there may also be memories of what the Leinster fly-half did to England this time last year in his selection.
"Either way, Ireland will be praying that Eoin Reddan's head clears enough for him to start. With Tomás O'Leary suffering yet another unfortunate injury, Ireland are getting a bit short of scrum-halves and it matters that Sexton has the comfort of a man he works with regularly inside him. He had a patchy game against Wales, kicking poorly immediately after replacing O'Gara, but you can put a lot of that down to the Webb Ellis ball, which Wales and only Wales use."
Andrew Trimble's return to the Ireland team could not have come under more challenging circumstances, according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"After missing the first four Six Nations assignments, Trimble's reintroduction to the left wing is not exactly a baptism of fire but going up against a Grand Slam-chasing England side, directly opposite their try-scoring phenomenon Chris Ashton, is a severe test of his readiness for international combat having not featured since the dogged win over Argentina last November.
"Is he fazed by the call-up? Not a bit of it. Enthusiasm is the overriding emotion in the Ulster man ahead of tomorrow's showdown -- boosted by the fact that, after strong performances by Ireland wingers Keith Earls and Tommy Bowe in the frustrating defeat to Wales, Trimble didn't see it coming.
"This is the first week I've been in camp that I didn't really have any hopes of being involved, and then it's the week that I get picked," said Trimble, smiling."
Wales captain Matthew Rees has dismissed the furore surrounding his role in Mike Phillips’ try against Ireland and says he is ready to repeat the feat if an opportunity arises in Paris tomorrow night. The Western Mail's David Williams reports.
"Jonathan Kaplan, the referee at the centre of the Millennium Stadium storm, is a touch judge this time and is bound to be on his guard to avoid any more blunders.
But Rees, whose quick throw with the wrong ball set Phillips up for his try, defended his lineout actions by saying: “It was in the heat of the moment and something which I haven’t done in the past.
“But the chance arose and I took it. If it’s there on a plate, sometimes you’ve got to take it. I did on Saturday and it came off. It’s about time we had a bit of luck on our side. So many times in the past we haven’t had the rub of the green so to speak and we were just fortunate to have that on Saturday.
“The ball has given me the ball, I’m ready to take the lineout and Mike has come into the corner of my eye. I gave him the ball and he’s done the rest. Those opportunities don’t happen that regularly in Test match rugby, but when they do you’ve got to take them.
“I think France will probably be looking out for it when we play them. It’s a way to speed up the game and keep the ball in play and if the opportunity is there against France we’ll have to see what happens.”
The Daily Telegraph's Mick Cleary reports from Dublin ahead of the Six Nations showdown between England and Ireland.
"England arrived in Dublin on Thursday night in search of the same air of defiance that almost caused a diplomatic incident eight years ago when Martin Johnson refused to move along the ceremonial red carpet prior to kick-off just to satisfy Irish sensibilities.
"Captain then, manager now, Johnson still sets great store on character when it comes to coping with adversity.
"The Grand Slam and World Cup-winning side of 2003 had it in spades: Johnson believes that this generation is well on the way to acquiring it as they tilt for their own Six Nations Grand Slam on Saturday, again against Ireland.
"In a perverse way, the loss to injury of captain Mike Tindall might provide an added spur as others rally round to make up for any deficiencies."
The Scotsman's David Barnes picks through the pieces of what has so far been a disappointing Six Nations campaign for Scotland.
"With one eye on the World Cup later this year, Robinson will be deeply concerned that he is no closer to knowing what his best option is in certain key positions (particularly at tight-head prop) but, in other areas, he will be encouraged that he now has greater strength in depth than any other Scottish coach has enjoyed in the professional era.
"This was always going to be a big tournament for Richie Gray, and he hasn't disappointed - registering some magnificent performances which should surely have resulted in his name being one of the 12 which appeared on a shortlist for player of the championship earlier this week.
"Meanwhile, with Johnnie Beattie still not back to his devastating best after shoulder surgery during the summer and John Barclay struggling to produce his best form, Kelly Brown - previously the least heralded of the Killer Bs triumvirate - has become a totem for his team-mates in the Scottish back-row.
"Behind the scrum, Chris Paterson once again confounded those who have written him off as too lightweight and too slow to be truly effective at the highest level with a mighty contribution to Scotland's vastly improved performance against England last weekend.
"And the Sean Lamont experiment at inside centre may not have added much in terms of attacking guile but it has been a qualified success in that we now know that Graeme Morrison is not the only target man available for selection in midfield.
"But perhaps the most significant positive outcome of this tournament so far has been that Scotland's calamitous performance against Wales afforded Robinson the opportunity to give Ruaridh Jackson a run in the starting team earlier than he otherwise would."
The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reflects on the decision to re-located Rugby World Cup matches away from the earthquake-damaged city of Christchurch.
"The IRB is not famed for speed or wisdom in some of their decisions. It is made up of a cautious group, unwilling to be bullied by public opinion. They love their committees, sub-committees, focus and encounter groups, reports and administrative introspection.
"But 23 days after the quake, that group's ingrained caution led them to the only sensible decision. There was too much doubt about the stadium rebuild; it might happen but there were too many uncertainties and a rebuild is no time for guesswork or shortcuts.
"There was nowhere else in Christchurch where World Cup matches could be held. No arena with enough capacity to come anywhere near that of AMI Stadium.
"The New Zealand Rugby Union was already facing a hefty loss in staging the seventh global tournament, they could not take a further hit. The matches scheduled for Christchurch had to be switched to grounds with a combined capacity to equal or better AMI Stadium.
"It was no doubt an emotional decision. It has removed a city that was central to the all-New Zealand hosting approach, a city which hosted matches at the inaugural 1987 World Cup including two All Black tests."
Writingi n the Western Mail, Gwyn Jones believes Welsh wing wizard Shane WIlliams will be almost impossible to replace.
"What I will never query, though, is the magical rugby you have served up for us down the years.
"The highlights for me include the tries scored during the 2008 Grand Slam winning season when Shane was rightly named player of the tournament.
"The loss of Shane means Gatland will have to reassess his thinking for Paris, because Williams can run at the props with the ball to gain territory and has the ability to come off his wing and spot those chances.
"This season, because of the nature of the four games, he didn’t have the opportunity to counter from open, fluid situations.
"This may have been partly down to Wales’ no-risk conservative style and partly due to the tight-nature of every game. The margins have been close and the backs have had to resort quite often to tactical kicking.
"Nevertheless, Shane remains almost irreplaceable as he can change games in ways that nobody else can."
Writing for Sport24, JJ Harmse believes scrum have become a gamble.
"t is clear that, whether intentional or not, the loosehead has become the victim of the latest laws.
"I am sure many tightheads would do a little fist pump about this, as for many years, they have been under scrutiny and their opponents were allowed to ‘walk around’ the scrum or place their left hand on the ground to get an angle. The only concern for me and you should not be to have a go at the referees, who apply the laws, but to have a look at the result of these applications.
"Are we getting the best result at scrum time? I believe we are not. I cannot wait for the day when the No 8’s head remains in the scrum and his only concern is how to control the ball under his feet."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, ex-England hooker Brian Moore believes his old side have the beating of any side in the world in a one-off game.
"Throughout his tenure as England manager he has ignored the siren voices that insisted he jettison the old and install a raft of young players en bloc. Instead, his has been a steady programme of introduction and, at last, he has done something that was desperately needed, was blindingly obvious, but was not achieved by his two immediate predecessors — he has brought stability to selection.
"As his team prepare for a Grand Slam finale in Dublin, the opinions on the quality have again polarised. This tendency to extremity is a relatively modern phenomenon, encouraged by the plethora of media sources that jostle for attention and try to attract it by hyperbole.
"There may be a few supporters who acclaim this England team as world-beaters, but not many and none with any rugby nous. There are many who are keen to run down Johnson’s men, describing them as merely average or alternatively attempting to diminish their results by claiming that this Six Nations Championship has been of poor quality."
The Scotsman's Stuart Bathgate reacts to the announcement that Murrayfield will remain Edinburgh's home for the next five years.
"In fact, no matter how it is tricked out or tarted up, Murrayfield will remain an incongruous venue for the size of crowd which Edinburgh attract. For most games, a ground the size of Myreside or Goldenacre would have adequate capacity. For really big occasions, if they ever arise, Easter Road or Tynecastle would fit the bill. But all those grounds have one obvious disadvantage, as far as Edinburgh and the SRU are concerned: cost. It would cost rent to Hibs or Hearts and it would cost to upgrade rugby's club grounds to the requisite level.
"But then rugby has been a professional sport for the past 15 years or so. Proper investment is an integral part of it, at least if any success is going to arise.By tying Edinburgh to Murrayfield for the next five years, the SRU has minimised its cost. Whether the proposals can maximise the team's audience is another matter entirely."
The Independent's Chris Hewett pinpoints Jonathan Sexton as Ireland's dangerman ahead of their clash with England on Saturday.
"It was Sexton who unravelled England in last year's match at Twickenham, and if he has fallen off his 2010 standard just recently, he remains a dangerous customer. Kidney must have thought long and hard before relegating O'Gara to replacement status a few days after starting him against the Welsh in Cardiff, but if the Irish centres – an out-of-sorts yet threatening Gordon D'Arcy, accompanied by Brian O'Driscoll, the nearest thing to a genuinely great player active in European rugby – are to expose England's obvious limitations in midfield, Sexton is the better man to arm them.
"Besides, it is perfectly possible that O'Gara will have a late say in matters anyway. Ireland's version of Jonny Wilkinson, he is the perfect man to close out a tight game off the bench. Had he not performed his party piece against Italy in the opening round – there is nothing of the wisdom of hindsight in suggesting that his match-saving drop goal had an overpowering whiff of inevitability about it – the Azzurri would now have two wins under their belts, rather than one."
Frank Keating recounts memories of past clashes beetween Wales and France in The Guardian.
"Time and again down the years, I've relished the biennial barney across the water between the red and the blue. This greybeard rewardingly spools back no end of grand matches, grand moments, and grand men.
"Mind you, for the first part of the last century Wales's away match against Scotland was traditionally the fabled weekend for the working classes down there – with no end of night-special excursion trains steaming up north through the witching hours to deposit all down Princes Street at dawn, a bleary throng seething contentedly with high expectations as well as, it must be said, boozy, beery odours.
"It has me recalling a lovely little film made half a century ago this year by that fine Welsh journalist John Morgan in which he tells of the midnight rush beginning at Swansea railway station: "Most of them in scarlet berets and scarves or leeks and daffodils – and some even with saucepans – and a final run from the pub across the station yard swinging their flagons or carrying their crates like soldiers rushing ammunition to the guns."
Wynne Gray evaluates the Crusaders' decision to take a Super Rugby match to Twickenham in The New Zealand Herald.
"The Crusaders have always been the red-and-blacks. Even more so now as matches in Christchurch are farmed out from their earthquake-ruined stadium.
"Figuring out a solution to their disrupted Super 15 campaign is about finding a balance between holding matches for their supporters and making a profit, seeing the figures in the black column swamp those in the red.
"So if chief executive Hamish Riach and his advisers figure the best deal for the Crusaders is to play their sixth-round clash against the Sharks at Twickenham, rather than say Nelson, Timaru or Eden Park, they should go for it."
Hugh Farrelly calls for a change in perception around the Irish outside-half debate in The Irish Independent.
"Someone once noted that perception is strong and sight is weak and that is certainly the case with the Irish rugby team during this confusing Six Nations championship campaign.
"Judging by some of the reaction to last Saturday's defeat in Wales, the perception for many is of a squad in disarray and yet proper viewing reveals encouraging progress in foundation areas such as scrum, line-out, kick-offs, defence and discipline that were previously causes of concern.
"The problem is that, while these aspects of Ireland's play have undeniably come on as the championship has progressed, this is still a team somewhat at odds with itself and time is running out for the "pieces of the jigsaw" to come together."
Peter Bills gives his two cents on the recent refereeing farce that unfolded at the Millennium Stadium in The Independent.
"Two men made serious blunders at Cardiff last Saturday that directly influenced the outcome of the Wales v Ireland match. But neither of them was the referee.
"One was Irish fly half Jonathan Sexton, an undistinguished second half substitute, and the other was Scottish assistant referee Peter Allen. Between them, they brought chaos to an international match.
"Sexton erred by kicking the ball out on the full after 49 minutes. Then Allen made the crass error of losing concentration, failing to follow the flight of the ball so that he would have seen the same ball was clearly not used for the quick throw-in for Mike Phillips’ try that proved the crucial difference in the match."
Gerry Thornley, writing in The Irish Times, believes that beating England this weekend has become imperative for Ireland in the wake of their loss to Wales.
"This is all becoming a little tediously repetitive. An Ireland team so close yet so far from tearing up trees, and darned match officials, whose influence on games in this Six Nations has been far, far too pronounced. Ireland have had the rawest deal, and perhaps they are paying for incurring the wrath of the IRB and refereeing fraternity to a degree with their reaction to last season’s law amendments.
"In any event, if you’re an Arsenal fan as well as an Ireland one, two disgraceful decisions by match officials at critical points leave a particularly sour taste. Match officials are human beings. They make mistakes, all the more so when they only have a split second. The key is probably to give themselves a time-out as much as they possibly can."
Marc Hinton hopes that the NZRU are able to re-sign one of the All Blacks' biggest characters, Cory Jane, on stuff.co.nz.
"Now whether that's to allow the New Zealand Rugby Union to upsize their offer to him, or genuinely because Jane can't make up his mind, well that's for the popular Hurricanes and All Blacks back utility to know, and for us to speculate on.
"But here's one thing I do know: New Zealand rugby may save some much-needed cash if Jane is allowed to join the overseas drift but it will be the poorer in so many other ways.
"Jane is a wickedly talented player who flits between fullback (for the Canes) and wing (for the All Blacks) with ease. I thought he was terribly hard done by to lose his spot in the national pecking order on last year's northern tour, and couldn't help but figure that it had to be some sort of a motivational ploy by Graham Henry."
Mick Cleary focuses his attention on the lost man of French rugby, Marc Lievremont, in The Daily Telegraph.
"L’Equipe gave over its first four pages on Monday to an in-depth post-mortem following the team’s first-ever defeat (22-21) to Italy. Its message was clear: Lièvremont pose vraiment probleme.
"Former head coach Bernard Laporte issued a stinging rebuke in the paper’s columns and finished off his critique with a familiar refrain for a Frenchman: we need a revolution.
"Jonny Wilkinson’s boss at Toulon, Philippe Saint-Andre, despaired of a shop window that is filled with the soiled goods of the international team. In brief, it’s not been the best 48 hours in the life of Lièvremont."
"The infamous 'stand-off' of 2003 might just get some airplay this week. Just a little.
"Martin Johnson's first return to Lansdowne Road; the fact that he has graduated from captain to manager and is poised to land England's first Grand Slam since lifting the trophy that afternoon; Brian O'Driscoll once again standing in his path as Ireland captain; St Patrick's week and a World Cup looming.
"Mash it all together and you have all the elements you could possibly require for another jingoistic, tub-thumping showdown -- the main difference this time around being that pride not silverware is Ireland's primary motivation."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, England's Nick Easter reflects on his side's victory over Scotland and ahead to their showdown with Ireland in Dublin.
"Very few in our group have a particularly good record against them over the years. In fact, that’s putting it mildly. Since England won that Grand Slam at Lansdowne Road in 2003 we have lost six of the last seven Six Nations games against them which tells you everything you need to know about how Ireland get themselves up for an England game.
"...Rugby is all about winning, Test match rugby especially. We are delighted with Sunday’s result but it was a very flat, frustrated dressing room. In fact, it had been flat for two weeks since the France game.
"We played some good rugby in our first two matches, but against the French we left three tries out there. And the same against Scotland, we created some good opportunities but just forced it a bit. Sometimes we need to hold onto the ball a bit longer and make it count. They were out on their feet on occasions even in the first half, going down and taking a minute, but we weren’t quite ruthless enough. We have got to learn from that and quickly."
The people of Christchurch have suffered enough - they now need the World Cup organisers to be decisive and state sooner rather than later whether the tournament can go ahead there, according to the Sunday Herald's Gregor Paul.
"A full report on AMI Stadium is expected tomorrow and if the prognosis is favourable, if it can host games, then the procrastination has to end. A decision on Christchurch's World Cup future has to be made quickly, preferably by the end of this week.
"It's not just the locals who need clarity - the international market is becoming increasingly anxious to hear something definitive. Tour operators, like circling aircraft, can stay in a holding pattern for only so long. The overseas market has bought tickets, booked accommodation and made commitments.
"To keep telling them nothing, runs the risk of cancellations. The competing teams, too, need to know - not so much where they are playing, but where it would make sense to set up base camp."
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley picks through the pieces of Ireland's Six Nations defeat to Wales and ahead to the visit of England.
"The outhalf issue won’t go away either, and has become more muddled, with both players now seemingly suffering from the musical chairs at 10. For the second time Kidney again changed his chief tactician at outhalf, only earlier. Coming before the 50th minute, it looked hasty to withdraw Ronan O’Gara and introduce Jonathan Sexton.
"The ripple effect has been a seemingly confused approach. Sexton was omitted after the defeat to France, when Ireland were credited with just 15 kicks in 80 minutes (there had been 21 in Rome). Against the Scots that figure rose to 24 but on Saturday it was 42 – much of it undistinguished as the Ireland players struggled with the greasy Webb Ellis pill used by the Welsh.
"The most damning statistic is that Ireland won the ball 35 times in the Welsh 22 and came away with only 13 points in total, failing to score in the second half."
The Australian Rugby Union is set to introduce an NRL-like salary cap to curb player expenditure of more than A$30 million, cracking down on third-party payments, and reducing individual player payments by as much as 25 per cent as the code continues to suffer financial pressure. The Sydney Morning Herald's Josh Rakic reports.
"In a rebuilding phase after hitting rock bottom in 2009, Australian rugby is already resigned to a fall in profits this year due to a restriction on Wallabies' in-bound Tests as a result of the World Cup.
"And while television ratings have had a big increase the ARU is following the lead of European competitions in looking to stem the outflow of cash.
"The code's biggest expenditure? Players' wages.
''The game is experiencing some financial difficulties, and as such the ARU is reviewing all of their expenditure items, player salaries included,'' a source said. ''They're looking at introducing an overall salary cap.''
"It is widely accepted that players are entitled to 25 to 30 per cent of Australian rugby revenue, but with revenue down significantly, the governing body is looking to slash that share."
Scotland salvaged a huge amount of respect with their battling display against England at Twickenham, according to The Scotsman's David Ferguson.
"The Scots defence was far better than in recent games, tighter, quicker and harder-hitting, and, having conceded a try in the opening ten minutes in seven of their last nine Tests, they did not yield to the championship's top attacking side until 13 minutes from the end, and then when controversially reduced to 14 men. They also produced a first Scottish try in the Calcutta Cup in four years, with a flash of brilliance from centre Max Evans that pulled the deficit back to three points with just six minutes of the game remaining.
"Scotland have rarely been as roundly written off as they were before this 128th meeting of the old rivals. But they nearly pulled it off. There was a sign before kick-off that the Twickenham residents might not have everything their own way when a fox raced around the inside of the ground, up and down the pitch and through the stands, with no-one able to coax him off until the shattered animal spotted an exit route as the Scottish anthem struck up and made his escape. By the finish both Scotland and England were similarly out on their feet, having covered every blade of grass."
Writing in The Independent, Chris Hewett believes Scotland exposed holes in Martin Johnson's England side at Twickenham.
"One of European rugby's rare beasts – an English Grand Slam – might be spotted in Dublin next weekend: the Six Nations title is virtually in the bag, thanks to the points advantage accruing from the eight-try victory over Italy in round two, and a stern, authoritative performance by the red-rose pack may well bring them all those additional spoils that seemed beyond their grasp at the start of the tournament. But the Irish will have to be as blind as bats not to spot the frailties and fragilities at the heart of Martin Johnson's team, all of which were on public view at Twickenham yesterday. The thing is not done yet.
"Another kind of beast – a common or garden fox – threatened to delay the start of this compelling Calcutta Cup encounter. Half the British Army seemed to be surrounding the pitch as the Scots emerged from the tunnel, yet not a man-jack of them knew how to coax the creature away from the field of play, where it had taken up residence some 40 minutes beforehand. Zara Phillips might have had an idea or two, being a horsey type, but she was in the expensive seats and had no immediate access to the pitch. The fox disappeared just before kick-off. The Scots? There was no disappearing act from them. They put themselves in England's faces from the get-go and stayed there for the duration."
The Guardian's Rob Kitson reports from England's Six Nations victory over Scotland at Twickenham.
"Bad sides do not win Six Nations titles so we can only assume England suffered an unfortunate attack of stage fright. They will still travel to Dublin this week chasing a first grand slam for eight years but this was a stuttering display of King's Speech proportions. Rather than friendly ball‑boys and celebratory swallow dives it was an afternoon which emphasised the tournament's recurring ability to confound.
"Martin Johnson will far prefer to study the championship table than the match tape. After four wins out of four, with a points difference of +42 compared with their nearest challengers Wales, his team need only a draw at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday to guarantee their first title since 2003. To stop them the Welsh must win big in France and hope Ireland do them a spectacular favour. It is, in short, England's championship to lose, even if they do stumble at the final hurdle.
"At least Johnson will no longer have to do battle with complacency. In the home dressing-room afterwards there was not a hint of "Here we go, here we go" triumphalism. "The guys are pretty flat which is not a bad place to be after you've won four," said Johnson. "I'm happier in a way to be going to Dublin having played like that rather than scoring a load of points." It is a fair point; as he knows better than most, titles are not won by the prettiest teams but by sides who get the job done even when they are playing modestly."
The Observer's Mike Aylwin reports from Italy's stunning Six Nations upset win against France in Rome.
"There was a time when Italian heads would have dropped in such circumstances and, when Bergamasco missed a couple of kickable penalties, it looked as though things might go that way. But Andrea Masi brought euphoria to the crowd by getting on the end of a bit of clever work by Tommaso Benvenuti and Fabio Semenzato.
"Bergamasco's conversion and a penalty made it a two-point game and the last 20 minutes were set to be a blinder. Parra and Bergamasco swapped penalties to keep the nerves jangling before the wing landed his final kick from 35 yards out, wide on the left.
"All that remained was the torture of three reset French scrums in the shadow of the Italian posts before the Azzurri could celebrate. After letting Ireland off the hook on the first weekend of the championship, and then pushing Wales all the way, Italy now go to Murrayfield looking to repeat their only away win in the Six Nations, the 37-17 victory over Scotland, in 2007, when they were three tries up in the first six minutes."
Ireland have regressed to the point where overhaul is a must according to Neil Francis in the Irish Independent.
"Ireland should have something to compete for next Saturday other than the prize of spoiling England's season, but that is not what this group is about and in much the same way they will rue an incredibly expensive loss to a French side that we now know after yesterday's miracle in Rome is one of the worst French sides in living memory.
"Ireland will look back at their performance against a very negative and one-dimensional Welsh side that simply played a little more cleverly than you would have given them credit for. Ireland did not play well enough to win this game, although it was well within their compass to dispose of Wales and now it is the Taffs who go to Paris next week with something to play for and gallingly hope for a favour from the Paddies.
"It was yet another awful game to watch. Last year I had a colonoscopy and they let me watch it on the TV monitor; it was more entertaining than the match in Cardiff yesterday. It would seem that most northern hemisphere players have lost their sense of perspective when it comes to applying the fundamentals of the game, the ability to give and take a pass, the notion of spatial awareness knowing when it is more prudent to kick than pass, knowing what to do in certain sectors of the park and Ireland were just as poor as Wales as they reverted to rugby of the lowest common denominator."
Writing in his column for the Wales on Sunday, Barry John is confident Wales are on the right track.
"Wales claimed the big scalp they wanted... and it really is onwards and upwards for Warren Gatland’s team after this.
"Despite two wins on the road, the fantastic Welsh fans still weren’t totally convinced their side was back on track.
"They needed evidence of that from a win against a better rugby nation than Scotland or Italy, although our own triumph in Rome last time out was put into a little more perspective by France’s failure out in the Italian capital.
"But yesterday we finally got the victory, and the performance, we needed to see, achieved against a formidable Ireland side who have proved themselves to be a force at world level in recent times."
There were errors. It was messy. But for sheer unadulterated tension Wales's victory over Ireland took the biscuit according to the Sunday Telegraph's Paul Ackford.
"Ireland can have no excuses. True, they were on the wrong end of a bad decision but this was a side hanging on in there. They did marvellously well to get back into the match but the old guard are fading and they lack the all-round edge and energy of the better sides.
"Remarkably, Ireland were 13-9 in front at half time. Remarkable because one of the more intriguing aspects of the first period was the lack of yardage gained by Paul O'Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan.
"For years O’Connell has been the go-to man up front for Ireland, with Brian O’Driscoll providing the rallying point behind. O’Driscoll still has the magic. The way he finished off Ireland’s try after Tommy Bowe had forced his way between Jamie Roberts and Alun Wyn Jones was exemplary: unfussy, accurate, clinical.
"But O’Connell now seems to be raging against the dying of the light. He still has presence, able to nick the odd line-out, but it was the bullocking runs of Bradley Davies, Roberts and Sam Warburton which were most damaging in the context of the match."
The Independent on Sunday's Hugh Godwin reports as Ireland are caught short by touch judge's incorrect call on quick line-out.
"Wales's first win in seven home matches stretching back almost a year, and the end to Ireland's Triple Crown hopes, was achieved in farcical circumstances with a conspicuously illegal try awarded by the world's most experienced Test referee and his Scottish assistant.
"Not that the Millennium Stadium multitude cared much, as the Welsh moved up to second in the Six Nations table. A couple of hundred miles away from the row over Mike Phillips's second-half score, England were quietly patting each other on the back, knowing that the Championship title will be as good as won on points difference, with one round still to play, if they beat Scotland today.
"Not for the first time with the damnably complicated officiating that goes with this great sport, we were left thumbing the lawbook when we should have been glorying in Brian O'Driscoll's record-equalling 24th Championship try, or praising Wales's cool goal-kicking or debating the timing of Ireland's substitutions."
"And what of France? There’s no debate now. Italy’s victory has exposed French coach Marc Lievremont as a charlatan. If France stay with him for the World Cup, then God help them.
"Lievremont has had too long to get his side sorted for this defeat to be a blip. Blessed with the best bunch of players by some distance – and that includes a resurgent England – Lievremont has chopped and changed and seen his team lose confidence and fall into decline.
"There were those who thought that their performance in the opening game of this Six Nations against Scotland was proof that they had exorcised the demons which possessed them against Australia when a second half of catastrophic awfulness saw then concede a shed load of points.
"I was at the Stade de France when Scotland were the visitors and thought that they had regrouped. It was born out of a love French rugby generally and a belief that all that talent has to be channelled into something special.
"What a romantic fool I was. The truth, the brutal truth, is that Lievremont is betraying a great tradition."
Northampton flanker Tom Wood has taken a different route into the professional rugby but he is all the better for it according to The Guardian's Rob Kitson.
"As a teenager there were days when Tom Wood felt invisible. Even now he is a full England international he remembers the prickling anger he felt after playing a blinder in a trial for the England Under-18 squad and still not getting selected. It was clearly a formative moment. "I watched the videos back and thought: 'There's no way they can't pick me, I've got to be in.' Then they didn't pick me. I guess it's the way you deal with those things that really sets you apart."
"A strong desire to plough his own furrow has been a recurring theme in Wood's rise. To call his emergence a fairytale would be fanciful but, in its own way, the story of the 24-year-old's unorthodox journey to the England back-row is as uplifting as any in modern sport. Some have compared him to the determinedly unflashy Richard Hill, others to Neil Back on the basis both grew up in Coventry and attended the same Woodlands school. Wrong.
"The more he talks, the more he reminds you of a young Martin Johnson: bright, self-motivated, fit and occasionally stroppy. No wonder Johnson likes his attitude; watching Wood pile into his team-mates at training must feel like peering into a mirror and seeing himself circa 1993."
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley previews the eagerly-anticipated Six Nations clash between Wales and Ireland in Cardiff.
"Wales, we know, will be ultra-physical as they seek to tear into Ireland from the start, as they’ve been in all three games to date. And, as with any side coached by Warren Gatland, Ronan O’Gara may as well take to the pitch with a bull’s eye on his forehead.
"They played much better in their opener at home to England than they were given credit for. The key there was England’s ability to soak up the pressure and come downfield to draw first blood.
"But were Wales to be rewarded for any early pressure, it would get the crowd into the game and, just as significantly, confidence would rise in home ranks. James Hook – a key barometer of the game – and his mates would start to strut their stuff.
"However, we know Ireland have an ability to roll with the punches, and having reduced a worryingly high error count against the Scots, all that really remains is for them to improve their discipline. This subject has been worn to death within and outside the squad (and in Wales, too), but one imagines there’ll be an improvement.
"That said, Ireland don’t seem to be flavour of the month with the refereeing fraternity, and Jonathan Kaplan will be a central figure in every sense. Both sides will have to adapt to him quickly, and while he’ll allow a contest at the breakdown, and is also aware to call when a double tackle becomes a maul, Kaplan will favour the attacking side and establish a high tempo to the game."
IRB executive tips Auckland to host quake city matches
If history is anything to go by, there could hardly be worse opponents today for a Welsh team looking to end a year-long winless run at home- so writes the Western Mail's Simon Thomas.
"There’s no particular rhyme nor reason to the home hoodoo, just as there was no great logic to our successes in Dublin during the late 1980s and much of the 1990s. It just appears to be one of the quirks of the fixture.
"What’s encouraging is that history hasn’t appeared to be playing too heavily on the minds of the Welsh players this week.
"It helps that 10 of the match-day squad have tasted Six Nations success against the Irish, either in 2005 or at Croke Park in the most recent Grand Slam campaign of 2008.
"It also helps they are coming into this game on the back of road-trip wins in Scotland and Italy following an eight-match barren run.
"That confidence has been apparent in the Welsh camp this week, with a new spring in the step of the players."
The Sydney Morning Herald's Stathi Paxinos reports from the Rebels' latest rollercoaster of a clash that ended in defeat to the Sharks.
"After the disappointing effort against the Chiefs the previous round, it was the Rebels' turn to show the fighting spirit as they rattled the Durban-based South African team in a way they have not been this season.
"The game went down to the wire when Rebels blindside flanker Jarrod Saffy scored a try, which Danny Cipriani converted with two minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to two points and giving the crowd hope of a similar last-minute win to their round-two upset over the Brumbies. But things were not to be, time running out for a Rebels outfit that had regained much respect with the performance.
"Rebels coach Rod Macqueen said he was proud of his side, which secured two bonus points for scoring four tries and finishing within four points of the Sharks."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Will Greenwood reveals where he thinks the game between England and Scotland will be won and lost.
"1. THE BREAKDOWN - The modern day desperation for quick ball, and with it the chance of glory. Slow your opponents down and everyone is vulnerable. Generate quick stuff and anyone can win. England want pace to feed their new found confidence and rhythm. Scotland need quick ball to give Rhuaridh Jackson the platform to showcase his skills. Slow ball will highlight his inexperience, and quick ball will make England the team they were.
"2. LINE OUT - Every game has one area of set piece that can help swing a game. Both sides are stacked with options on offense and potential pilferers on defense. It is still one of the defining truths in rugby that an outstanding line out can win you a match. Kellock must lead his men from the front, backed up by horizontal line out men like Hines. The first elbow goes across not up. Old school, but can make the difference.
"3. THE MIND GAME - No matter what sport you play, whatever levels of contact are involved, the top two inches define your afternoon’s progress. Dave Brailsford, boss of Great Britain cycling crew at the last Olympics, talked of controlling your inner monkey. Scotland must tell the grey cells to stop thinking about the Six Nations Wooden Spoon. England must not think ahead to Dublin, and must not worry about leaving anything in the tank should they win. Heads must stay in the moment, in the phase.
The Scotsman's David Ferguson previews Scotland's Six Nations showdown with England at Twickenham.
"The current Scotland team have deserved most of the criticism hurled their way after performances of varying levels of ineptitude and promise-bursting errors, which all added up to the same thing - defeat.
"They will stride into England's 82,000-capacity home also aware that there is a great belief rising across the Home Counties. England have not only beaten Wales, Italy and France, but they have shown an ability to take their game to a new level, one in which the players are comfortable on the ball in tight and across the park, driving up through the forwards, winning the arm-wrestle and attacking with speed and incision. Though not all the time.
"They have matched their number of wins of the past three years and many in this squad are only too well aware that that was their frustrating limit. With Scotland at home and a far from dominant Ireland in Dublin to finish, they are confident of using the momentum generated so far to surpass that this time, and that confidence will need a lot of denting before it turns in on itself."
Sport24's Rob Houwing reports at Stormers coach Allister Coetzee goes on the offensive in defence of under-fire wing Bryan Habana.
"For whatever reason, there was an insufferable wait for the respective coaches and captains to do their media thing at Newlands, and the complimentary bar service for the hacks was a predictably popular tranquiliser.
"So when one well-loved, particularly gravel-voiced scribe finally got his chance to raise the suggestion – not totally unreasonably, you might argue – that maybe a “four-try day” for Habana in the ranks of the Western Province Vodacom Cup side would not be the worst restorative measure in the world, he got unusually short shrift from Coetzee.
"Bear in mind that in a quirky selection strategy thus far in the season, the Stormers have not been shy to banish relatively staple personnel from last year’s Super 14 – when they had reached the final – like Wicus Blaauw and Adriaan Fondse to the blue and white hoops.
"But the coach was having none of it, it seemed, in terms of Habana: “In my book he’s (still) doing his job. He’s got a helluva workrate ... he threw one intercept pass and some people went ‘ooh, there goes Bryan again’.
Dylan Hartley has received a lot of stick in the Six Nations but, instead of snapping back, England's hooker tells The Independent's Chris Hewett how he's been motivated to hit new heights.
"There is a theory about hookers, and it goes like this: a man cannot hope to make a serious reputation for himself in the middle of the front row unless his talent for talking a good game is at least as highly developed as his ability to play one.
"Brian Moore never pretended to be the world's greatest linguist, but he could spout four-lettered insults in every tongue known to man, from French to Ancient Hittite. Sean Fitzpatrick? The man never shut up. Phil Kearns? Likewise. And then there was Mark Regan, of whom the World Cup-winning Springbok captain John Smit famously said: "He spoke to me more in two matches than my wife has in 10 years."
"So where does this leave the New Zealand-born Dylan Hartley, current fulcrum of the England pack and a man seemingly determined to buck the trend. "I'm not witty enough to get involved in all that," he insists. "I'm always being hammered in the banter department, usually by Chris Ashton." Does this mean the Regan approach to competitive camaraderie is entirely foreign to him? Hartley grimaces. "The first time I went up against him, he just looked at me and said: 'Who the fuck are you?' I couldn't think of anything to say."
David Ferguson catches up with David Leslie as Scotland plot another siege of Twickenham in The Scotsman.
"He still calls himself Niccolo, after the Italian philosopher Machiavelli. He laughs as he says it, but it is clear that while David Leslie may still be treading a new path of recovery from the severe injuries he suffered over two years ago, when he fell 20 feet off a roof and on to concrete, head first, he is the same character that struck fear into international defences, and some of his team-mates, 30 years ago.
"Relaxing at his home in Dundee, now 52, Leslie recalls vividly aspects of the last Scotland win at Twickenham in 1983, when he and a fine Scotland team recovered from defeats to Ireland, France and Wales to march on the English capital "with nothing to lose" and emerged triumphant, 22-12, to end a 12-year wait for success at the old 'cabbage patch'."
Hugh Farrelly analyses a famous rugby heartland, Cork, and the pros and cons of living in what is 'a big city but still a small town' in The Irish Independent
"It adds up to a pretty sizeable chip ("bigger than your Jackeen chips, boy") on Cork shoulders and, when natives return, there is an accusatory tone to the routine questioning. "So, are you up in Dublin now...the whole time?", "When are you moving home?", "I'd say you miss the Republic?"
"Those are the cons to Cork, but there are plenty of pros. Moving back permanently may not be on the agenda but it is a cracking city to visit. The pints of Beamish represent quality, affordable imbibing; Cork slagging surpasses that available anywhere else in Ireland (including the over-hyped 'Dublin wit') and then there is the sport -- the primary reason to be proud of your Cork roots."
Keith Wood offers some personal advice to Ireland about how to deal with criticism in The Daily Telegraph.
"In the days of the pomp of the All Ireland League my team, Garryowen, were blazing a trail through all-comers and I was suddenly thrust into the rugby limelight.
"I loved every minute of it and lapped it up. Munster had played and beaten Australia the previous week and although I sat on the bench for that game I leapfrogged the Munster incumbent, Terry Kingston, to gain my place on the national bench.
"Everything was all right in my world as new friends emerged and praise cameg from all angles – I was on the crest of a wave. And worst of all and maybe naturally as a naive youngster, I believed every bit of it, well, the good stuff at least."
Shaun Edwards offers his two cents on the Toby Flood/Jonny Wilkinson debate in The Guardian.
"Three down and two to go. England head the pack, but where do they go from here? Today, when Martin Johnson names his team to play Scotland on Sunday, we might find out.
"With three wins in the bag, the England manager has every right to stand pat, keep the side that beat France and plough on towards the grand slam he hates to talk about. On the other hand, he might take the chance to look even further into the future and this autumn's World Cup in New Zealand.
"Between now and then, England have limited scope to experiment in the heat of a full-on Test match. Certainly Johnson will not be taking any chances when his team round off their Six Nations in Dublin, so it's now or never and Scotland have not been pulling up too many trees lately. The areas that interest are the centres and the back-row combination and while I wouldn't presume to tell Johnson his job, one or two thoughts have been prompted by morning's pictures of Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson sitting side by side and speculating about the chances of starting a game together now that England have developed both their game and their confidence."
Sport24's Gavin Rich previews John Smit's first appearance of the Super Rugby season and ponders where the year will take the Springboks' skipper.
"Smit will wear the No 3 jersey in place of Jannie du Plessis, who moves to the bench for this game, and resumes a position which most critics felt didn’t really work out for him when he was switched there by Springbok coach Peter de Villiers for much of the 2009 rugby year.
"But that is not really the point, for when Smit struggled at tighthead it was usually against smaller props, and in any event Plumtree is not saying that tighthead prop is Smit’s position. It will be recalled that Smit was down to play loosehead prop ahead of Beast Mtawarira before he was forced to pull out of the Cheetahs game three weeks ago with a calf strain.
"In a pre-season interview Plumtree said he was excited about what Smit, who has improved his fitness and conditioning since last year, could offer the Sharks this year both as a player and a leader, and he predicted that he would show the Bok management how Smit should be used.
"Considering that, if you factor in the pre-season friendly against the Lions where Smit started at hooker, Smit has now been selected for three different positions in what effectively amounts to three matches, you could say that the dye has been cast and Plumtree has confirmed what we suspected. Smit is going to be employed as a jack of all trades, a very good one at that, and in so doing will offer the teams he plays for enviable front-row options."
The New Zealand Herald's Derek Cheng, Jarrod Booker and Isaac Davison report from the earthquake-hit AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
"The playing surface is rippled and bulging with patches of sludge. Concrete structures are cracked and dislodged. Silt is piled thick beneath the stands and outside.
"..From the air, a 2m-wide lump can be seen near the northern end of the playing surface, as well as ripples in the turf and signs of liquefaction at the edges of the field. Grey sludge has seeped out from the turf in a 3m patch in front of the Deans Stand.
"A stairwell and walkway leading to the Deans Stand is dislodged at one end, its concrete base cracked and metal covering broken. A 20m crack runs up the side of the Hadlee Stand, which is scarred where concrete has fallen away. The ground's seating appears undisturbed. Silt is piled up under the stands, particularly on the northern side. The streets around the stadium, in particular Stevens Rd, are riddled with bumps - it is almost impossible to drive at more than 30km/h."
The Western Mail's Andy Howell reflects on Warren Gatland's bold selection for Wales' Six Nations showdown with Ireland.
"Just like Scotland – or any other country for that matter – Triple Crown-chasing Ireland will be on full alert now they have seen Hook named as Wales’ orchestrator and Halfpenny roaming from the right wing. If there’s a gap in the Irish defence, either of the pair have the vision and pace to exploit it.
"It means Brian O’Driscoll and company have much more on their plate than they have encountered so far, France included, during this year’s Six Nations.
"No disrespect to the reliable Stephen Jones, but Irish eyes would have been elsewhere had he been retained at No. 10 for the Millennium Stadium clash.
"They would have rushed up at the Welsh centres and offered the veteran the inside, knowing their formidable back row of Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace and Sean O’Brien would have been ready to sweep him up.
"O'Driscoll and his centre partner Gordon D’Arcy would have had the luxury of being able to concentrate on Jamie Roberts and Hook – if he had stayed at No. 13.
"But it’s a different story with Hook the focus of their attention. They will ignore him at their peril because he has the acceleration, footwork and fend-off to escape the clutches of the men in green’s loose forwards and capitalise on the suspect defending of opposite number Ronan O’Gara."
Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie believes rugby's laws are a beast that needs to be tamed.
"The issue for the referees is that there are many things to watch at a breakdown and where do you concentrate your attention? There has been a shift this year by the IRB to make sure that arriving players do not go off their feet at the breakdown – this is code for make sure the attacking players are not “sealing off” to prevent the defence contesting the ball.
"It's all good in theory but what it does is give the referees more to worry about, a less specific focus and a bigger list of priorities. The result this year has been a far greater contest at the breakdown and as a consequence less fast ball. Teams become encouraged to invest time in being destructive rather than attacking.
"It is a very complicated animal but the good news is that SANZAR have been proactive across the years and have pioneered much of what has become accepted as part of modern refereeing.
"The game is always changing. Monitoring trends and understanding the cause and effect of the laws is difficult but should not be left unattended."
Wynne Gray enjoys the Highlanders' recent resurgence and the light-fingered work of prop Jamie Mackintosh in The New Zealand Herald.
"Chalk it up as the day Mac's Mitt went into southern rugby folklore. When his paw joined others in that Hall of Hands like Kevin Skinner's sledgehammer dukes and David Latta's light-fingered fatality in a Ranfurly Shield challenge.
"Just in case you missed it, Big Mac aka Jamie Mackintosh, the Highlanders' captain, took a chance and knocked the ball out of the grasp of Bulls halfback Fourie du Preez as the South Africans pressed for a try in the death throes of their match at Pretoria."
Gerry Thornley previews Ireland's Cardiff clash with Wales, a game he sees as being 'set reasonably fair', in The Irish Times.
"No changes for Ireland, but two significant ones for Wales; the net effect being that both sides seem intent on putting their best attacking feet forward. Throw in a southern hemisphere referee with two positively inclined teams, and Saturday’s latest meeting between these feisty Celtic rivals looks set reasonably fair.
"The only possible blight on this landscape may be the weather, although Saturday’s forecast for Cardiff is for a fairly nippy evening with little in the way of wind and some light drizzle. Either way, it requires both camps to agree for the Millennium roof to be closed, and Declan Kidney strongly indicated yesterday that Ireland will not be so inclined.
"Asked about the roof, the Irish coach quipped: “It’s open apparently. I wouldn’t mind that, a lot of noise goes out through the roof.” But asked specifically whether he would agree to the roof being closed, he smiled again. “A bit of fresh air never did anyone any harm.”
Robert Kitson debates whether England can afford to make changes against Scotland in The Guardian.
"Martin Johnson loves a good trivia question so here's one to mull over in Calcutta Cup week. Apart from their nationality, what is the common denominator linking the following players: Robbie Morris, Mike Worsley, Graham Rowntree, James Simpson-Daniel, Alex Sanderson, Phil Christophers, Ollie Smith and Charlie Hodgson? Got it yet? Don't worry, we'll let you know the answer in a moment or two.
"While you're thinking about it, consider a couple of interesting stats. The last time England won a title, let alone a grand slam, was in 2003, the year they also went on to lift the World Cup. And do you know how many players Clive Woodward used in that successful 2003 Six Nations campaign, widely seen as the moment England gelled into one of the most settled, successful sides in their country's history? No fewer than 35. To date Johnson has used just 24 in three games, currently the second-lowest figure in England's Six Nations history. If England emulate the boys of 2003, they will have done so with far fewer hands on the tiller."
Mick Cleary of The Telegraph argues that England still have much to prove in this year's Six Nations.
"There is no such thing as an easy Grand Slam. True, there are scruffy ones, unexpected ones and even fortunate ones. But at some point in that championship, the slammers will have played with conviction and merit. They will have deserved their mythical crown, if only for the fact that they have got to the tape first and seen off all-comers.
"Scotland did just that in 1990, popping English pretensions and pomposity on a dramatic, poll-tax fuelled, emotional day in Edinburgh. Up to that point, Scotland had been fretful and sketchy in beating Ireland and Wales , more assured in dispatching France. England, meanwhile, had been magisterial and all-consuming in seeing off Ireland (23-0), France in Paris (26-7) and Wales at Twickenham (34-6).
"England were rightly lauded, Scotland, equally rightly, written off. David Sole’s long, slow walk into the Murrayfield middle put paid to such facile assumptions.
"All of which is to put England’s task in their next two games into perspective. A Grand Slam has to be earned. So far, England have put in the graft and reaped the glory. But they have a long way to go before they can be described as a great team."
Tony Ward of the Irish Independent analyses the difficult job Ireland boss Declan Kidney has in keeping all of his squad members happy.
"There's a temptation to read a lot into the naming of 12 additional players to join an extended Irish squad ahead of next weekend's trek to Cardiff and the final showdown against the steam-rolling English at the Aviva seven days later.
"It makes for an enlarged squad of 34 but if there is any real relevance, it is in the context of the World Cup. It is a difficult balancing act for Declan Kidney in attempting to keep a dozen or so peripheral players happy. When you add Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery and Rob Kearney -- three automatic World Cup selections if fit -- then three of those named for 'guinea pig' duty this week will lose out.
"The players might know it but it doesn't make it any easier for them. In their minds, as it should be, they are the best for their position irrespective of the coach's take. Kidney wouldn't want it any other way.
"The player on the fringe who doesn't believe he is better than the man in possession shouldn't be involved at all. "
Writing in the Irish Independent, Peter Bills reveals why former Munster centre Jean de Villiers believes Ireland are the best equipped side from the northern hemisphere to adapt to rugby's new laws.
"We're talking rugby, Jean de Villiers and I - both the northern and southern hemisphere versions - and trying to analyse how far ahead the south may be in terms of the new law interpretations.
"But really, the reality is bearing down on us from above. It is called the sun and today, here at the training ground of the Cape Town-based Super 15 franchise the Western Stormers, at Belville in the northern suburbs, it is 30C.
"Three days later, when the Stormers run out at 5.0 for their match against the Cheetahs, the temperature at kick-off is 34C. The ground is like a rock, baked hard after what has been an excessively hot and windy South African summer in the Cape.
"Mind you, what follows is pure 'Ireland versus England' from the 1960s. The Stormers win 21-15, seven penalty goals to five. Not a try in sight. So how does the former Munster centre regard the debate over northern versus southern hemisphere in the year of the Rugby World Cup?
"He comes up with a highly positive viewpoint. 'Obviously at the moment, with it still being dry over here, the game is a bit quicker and you need to adapt to it much faster. But some of the rugby I've seen in the Six Nations and the Heineken Cup has been fantastic as well. So they are adapting in the northern hemisphere, but it takes a while to do that.'"
In his weekly column in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley writes that Jonathan Kaplan and his fellow Southern Hemisphere referees are overseeing what at times almost looks like a different sport in the Super 14.
"Interestingly, Saturday’s referee, namely Jonathan Kaplan, will be the first from the Southern Hemisphere Ireland will have encountered in the Six Nations. Kidney and the Irish management don’t always avail of the opportunity to speak to referees on the evening before the game, but they would be well advised to do so this Friday, not least because Warren Gatland will.
"Furthermore, Kaplan and co are refereeing what at times almost looks like a different sport in the Super 14. Last Friday, Kaplan (sporting a new, cropped hairstyle which makes him look even bossier) oversaw the Auckland Blues’ 41-32 – and five tries to four win – over the Lions at Coca Cola Park (ye gods, formerly Ellis Park!).
"It was particularly striking, again, how the defending team rarely committed more than the tackler and next player in, and sometimes not even him, to the ruck. There was still a contest, as such, if the next player in could get his hands on the ball."
The latest round of Super 15 matches highlighted the remarkable talent which keeps emerging from New Zealand rugby according to the New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue.
"The Crusaders, mustering all their strength in heartbreaking times, beat the Waratahs by beating them up in the middle stanza of the match. They crushed the Waratahs' scrum and spirit when it mattered.
"Robbie Fruean has to be in the World Cup frame. Alongside him, Sonny Bill Williams is unstoppable when his team is on the front foot, although awkward in neutral or reverse.
"Williams was less than a stunning advertisement for C-grade boxing careers as rugby training devices. Williams may be lighter on the feet, to his mind, but he initially passed as if he still had boxing gloves on.
"Fruean is not only a midfield monster but has a deft touch, going on his twirling intercept try against the Waratahs. Compared to the current selectors' almost deliberately dubious All Black picks such as David Hill and Ben Smith, Fruean should have been a stone cold certainty for last year's All Black end-of-year tour."
Munster boss Tony McGahan hailed impact of the new kids on block in the wake of their Magners League victory over the Dragons - Ian Bransfield reports for the Irish Independent.
"Veterans Mick O'Driscoll, Doug Howlett and Alan Quinlan were all among the tries for Munster as they powered their way to a bonus-point win over the Dragons on Saturday night, yet it was fledgling rookies like Conor Murray and Simon Zebo who received much of the post-match commendation.
"There was a decidedly youthful look to Tony McGahan's starting XV and especially so at half-back, where 21-year-old Murray was paired with his Garryowen clubmate Declan Cusack, also 21.
"And while Cusack had a solid outing in the No 10 shirt, it was the performance of Murray at nine that really caught the eye.
"Making his first start at senior level, the Limerick tyro looked assured throughout, bossing his forwards around the park and servicing his backs with wonderfully sweet passing."
Scotland coach Andy Robinson is a hard-nosed operator but he doesn’t do bad-mouthing, according to the Daily Telegraph's Mick Cleary.
"The former England flanker is not about to dump on his countrymen, nor, more importantly, send out any signals that might be interpreted as weakness. The moment he heard Lièvremont invoke centuries-old, cliché-ridden dislike of England, Robinson felt that Martin Johnson’s side would win – and they did 17-9.
"Robinson returns to Twickenham a week tomorrow for the first time as Scotland coach since he was dismissed by England in late 2006 with a chance to settle personal scores.
“No, no, no that’s not me,” said Robinson at Murrayfield on Thursday after morning training. “And it’s not about me, anyway, it’s about the players. There’s nothing personal in it. If we win, it will be a victory, and great for that reason, nothing else.
“I know what I’m about as a coach. The management back then made their decision. The emotions I have will all be channelled in that match itself, to meeting the challenge. I’ll love being at Twickenham, with the anthems before, which is all part of the emotional performance of the day. It’s what makes the Six Nations so special.”
Rapport's Rudolph Lake reveals that SARU and Springbok coach Peter de Villiers are working flat out to finalise the team's Rugby World Cup plans.
"Although SARU and De Villiers are loathe to reveal their plans at this stage, it appears to be a done deal that former Springbok loose forward Rassie Erasmus and former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones will assist the team in defending the Webb Ellis Cup in New Zealand.
"Sport24 reported last year already that Erasmus and Jones were on a shortlist to help De Villiers retain he trophy.
"SARU's chief executive officer, Jurie Roux, didn't wish to confirm any of the Bok plans on Sunday.
"SARU is on record, however, as saying consultants could possibly be involved in the Bok team," was all that Roux was willing to reveal."
The Independent's Chris Hewett reports from Exeter's latest impressive victory over Northampton Saints at Sandy Park.
"Exeter know where they are going and are getting there fast – far faster, it must be said, than anyone thought possible at the start of the Premiership campaign. Northampton? They are going nowhere, even more quickly. It will beggar belief if the likes of Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Ben Foden and Chris "Splashdown" Ashton fail to make a positive impact on the Midlanders when they return from Six Nations duty later this month, but with confidence levels among the current personnel somewhere down near the earth's core, the England contingent will have to be seriously brilliant to put things right immediately.
"And anyway, Jim Mallinder is deeply uncomfortable with the assumption that Hartley and company will simply wave a magic wand and sprinkle some much-needed stardust around the place. "That would be a dangerous way to think," said the director of rugby. "The important thing is to recognise that we have some good players in the side now and to concentrate on finding a way of getting them playing better. Our front row is not firing the way it was at the start of the season, our centres aren't giving us the same go-forward, the back-row unit isn't functioning as well. We have to address it."
England scrum-half Ben Youngs seems in the dark about his dad's England exploits as he follows his own path on the international stage. The Observer's Kevin Mitchell reports.
"Youngs is the archetypal modern young professional athlete, wary of being misinterpreted and probably more interested in getting back to the weights room to pump iron or knock out a few miles on the treadmill than reveal, for instance, what his father thinks of his rugby.
"Nick Youngs, a robust scrum-half with a good kicking game, played six times for England in the early 80s, including in a historic 15-9 win over the All Blacks at Twickenham in 1983, one of only six by England over New Zealand in 34 attempts.
"Ben has 10 England caps and there should be many more to come. As Nick observed when Ben was on the rise last winter: "He's doing a pretty good job and I can tell you he's a much better scrum-half already than I ever was."
"Odd, nonetheless, that, on the admission of both of them, they rarely talk rugby. Nick never told Ben about that famous All Blacks win, for instance."
The Scotland on Sunday's Iain Morrison believes the collapse of Scotland's defence is undermining the progress made by Andy Robinson's side.
"The hallmark of a Robinson side is that it is damned difficult to beat. Without a sticky, determined, stonewall defence anything and everything else is so much hot air and more so for this Scotland team than any other. If you can't score tries - and this team haven't managed one at Murrayfield for eight matches or, put another way, the time it takes to watch Ben Hur back-to-back three times and still have time to buy ice cream and popcorn in between every reel - you had better not concede many.
"Instead of acting like Scrooge with a toothache, this team are handing out tries like treats at Halloween; they can't give them away fast enough.
"Whenever the opposition get into the 22 they score and they do so without breaking sweat. Irish scrum-half Eoin Reddan is still pinching himself to make sure he isn't dreaming.
"Yet, under Robinson's supervision Edinburgh and Scotland (last year's version anyway) made a virtue of soaking up pressure in defence."
If fate has a heart, New Zealand will be spared a major casualty toll in the build up to the World Cup, according to the New Zealand Herald's Gregor Paul.
"Serious injury is never easy for professional players to deal with. But there is greater mental anguish when injury strikes so close to a World Cup. It feels much crueller to be in the selection frame and only months away from what will be the highlight of any career - and then robbed.
"It's hard to imagine the emotions swirling through a player left to watch the big event he so desperately wanted to be part of. No one had to do that tougher than Andy Dalton in 1987. Originally selected as the All Black captain, Dalton pulled a hamstring just weeks before the event and had to watch David Kirk lift the Webb Ellis trophy aloft. Kirk is the iconic image etched in every brain, while Dalton is in the shadows of history - the tale of the unlucky man.
"The experience of seeing his team win without him is often described as bittersweet. Over the years, Dalton has given the impression it was more bitter than sweet."
Law changes in the tackle zone have left Declan Kidney's men playing catch-up, according to the Irish Independent's Brendan Fanning.
"You will recall that last season the IRB changed the way poachers approached the tackle, that they would first have to release the victim before relieving him of his personal belongings. The IRB line is that the change was communicated clearly to all coaches before last season's Six Nations. Ireland's position is that the tournament was up and running -- that they were two games in and preparing to play England -- when they were told that the goalposts were shifting.
"So for the sake of argument let's accept that the Irish position is closer to the truth. That left three games in last year's Championship, plus three in New Zealand and Australia in June, followed by four in November and three so far in this Championship campaign. And that's before you count up all the Magners and Heineken games, remembering that the post-Eddie O'Sullivan era is one of Glasnost where doors are open and information flows freely from Team Ireland down and back up again. In other words, we have had plenty of time to come up with an alternative tactic, and road-test it. Yet we're still in the garage."
There were cheers, tears and even a few beers as the Crusaders marked their region's twin tragedies with a triumphant return to Super Rugby in Nelson. Marc Hinton was there to soak up the emotions for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"A rare neutral at Trafalgar Park described it later as the most unusual atmosphere he'd ever experienced at a footy game. It was as though the 10,500 who packed Nelson's tranquil little rugby ground had come to shed their tears as much as to shout their cheers. The Crusaders were a sidelight to the cathartic experience of honouring the fallen.
"Part wake, part remembrance, part game of rugby. Rarely, if ever, can rugby players have felt such heavy hearts as they took the field - honouring not just their fellow Canterburians devastated by the earthquake but the 29 who died in the Pike River mine disaster.
"That Todd Blackadder's men were eventually able to harness their emotions, shake off their anxieties and focus on the job at hand was a tremendous tribute to their spirit. By the way, they defeated the Waratahs 33-18 and made a previously unbeaten side look pretty ordinary."
A year ago, as England travelled to Murrayfield to take on Scotland in the Six Nations, the status of the national side was close to laughable, recalls the Sunday Telegraph's Paul Ackford.
"That Scotland game did not improve the picture one bit. If anything, the dullest of dull draws hardened the impression of a side in terminal decline. Yet, as England prepare to host Scotland this year, they are two wins away from the first Grand Slam since the feted side of 2003, Johnson is wreathed in smiles and the only nations above England in the global rankings are the southern hemisphere’s big three. How come?
"Selection - Crippled by loyalty and risk averse, it took Johnson a long time to find his team. There were some notable howlers in his initial selections. Jordan Crane and Ayoola Erinle were clearly not cut out for Test rugby, and there was a lack of clarity over who to pick at half back as Johnson ran with Danny Cipriani, Andy Goode, Toby Flood and Wilkinson at outside half; and Danny Care, Harry Ellis and Paul Hodgson at scrum-half. The 15-15 draw against Scotland forced Johnson’s hand. Ben Foden was brought in for Delon Armitage, Chris Ashton replaced Ugo Monye and Flood took over from Wilkinson. On the tour to Australia Ben Youngs, Tom Palmer, Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes were introduced or reintroduced into the mix. The makings of a side were in place.
"Consistency - A relatively good run injury-wise in the last 12 months has allowed Johnson and his coaches to build confidence and understanding. Disruption caused by damage to Andy Sheridan, Croft and Lawes has been minimised because their replacements have been around the squad for a while and know the ropes. Youngs may appear an overnight sensation but, like Lawes and Tom Wood, he spent the early part of Test training weeks with the match squad before returning to play for his club at the weekend."
Quintin Dunlop's Test career was short and spectacular, comprising
a pair of wins in a week over England, he tells the Scotland on Sunday's Tom English.
""That's it there," he says, pointing to the sacred garment, the one he wore on 20 March, 1971 when he made his debut for Scotland at the age of 27 and played a part in their first victory at Twickenham in 33 years. Oh yes, history recalls Chris Rea's late, late try and Peter Brown's nerveless conversion and little more than that, but Dunlop was there all right. Proud as could be. Still is.
"He was there a week later, too. The 1971 season was odd in so many ways. It brought a momentous Scotland win over England in London and then another a week later in Edinburgh. It finished 26-6 in the Centenary International of 27 March. Five tries to none. The biggest winning margin in the fixture ever to that point. It was written that Scotland had never before played with such fire and craft, that it was peformance fit for a king and watched by a prince.
"The Prince of Wales was in attendance. Clueless, but watching all the same. Before the match, when introduced to the teams, he'd asked Alastair McHarg, the Test second-row of three years standing, a question that rather betrayed his innocence. "You're a forward - or something?" But even Charles would have been able to figure out the havoc that Scotland wreaked on England, a defeat that sparked some self-mocking humour that was best summed-up by their centre, Chris Wardlow - "I would like to make a pile of every kilt and bagpipe on which I could lay my hands and burn the lot" - and added to by Edward Heath at the post-match dinner. "I think I shall address you not as an Englishman but the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom," he smiled."
Supersport's Brendan Nel reports from the Highlanders stunning victory over the Bulls in Pretoria.
"The victory ended a magnificent run of 18 unbeaten matches at their fortress, and 20 in Vodacom Super Rugby in a game that showed that this Highlanders team can be considered championship material so early in the season.
"To be honest, like the Lions, the Bulls got their wake-up call this weekend. After two games where they sneaked home where they could easily have lost, the Bulls produced a performance hardly worthy of their championship tag as they struggled to get the ball, and when they had it were only a shadow of themselves on attack.
"Still, in a game where they were rarely in it, the Bulls did well to get themselves within a whisker of drawing the game and were so close to it, until Wynand Olivier chose to go himself with two players on his outside, and was stopped short, ending the game.
"The Bulls were poor, especially by their own high standards, but to not give credit to the Highlanders for their performance would be an injustice to the game."
Writing in his column for the Independent on Sunday, Bath's David Flatman offers his take on the on-going club v country issue.
"This raises a crazy question: is it worth signing current internationals? Well, yes it is. Naturally, the likes of Lewis Moody just won't be available for as many games as other players at the club but he is an England international for a reason. Evidently when he plays, his drive and commitment are unrivalled, whatever the opposition, and the same goes in training. But this isn't the only benefit.
"He, along with the other internationals, add to the mix a heightened level of experience and composure; they infuse those around them with a feeling of security and a sense that, whatever situation we might be in, they've been there and handled it before. And this – in a game where it's not only the measurables that count (see the NFL) – is priceless.
"So, were I a director of rugby, I would still recruit England players. I would concede that, as is right and proper, national selection takes precedence at all times and I wouldn't complain. I might, however, push for a few tweaks to the system. The notion of the Aviva Premiership halting completely while the Six Nations takes place seems reasonable enough at first glance, but do you think Exeter's representative would be keen? I doubt it. This "blocking out" would also mean a longer season as all league matches were pushed back and, well, the players would surely revolt at this."
The Independent on Sunday's Hugh Godwin talks to England scrum-half Ben Youngs ahead of their Six Nations clash with Scotland.
"Amid the ancient splendour of Oxford, across the road from the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Ben Youngs was pondering a question of the ages. "Who else can come on as a sub and nail a 45-metre kick?" England's scrum-half said when asked to compare the merits of Jonny Wilkinson, his part-time half-back partner, and Toby Flood, with whom Youngs has struck up an umbilical understanding for club and country. "You can count them on your fingers," Youngs replied to his own question – and he didn't mean two hands.
"England handled Flood with care during a three-day break in Oxford. It was meant as a refresher course in a seven-week Six Nations' Championship campaign that England have begun in A-plus fashion with wins over Wales, Italy and France, but the Leicester fly-half went up to the Dreaming Spires with a limp in his right leg from a sore Achilles tendon. Flood rested instead of training and though the official prognosis is that he will be fit to face Scotland next Sunday, and therefore Ireland in Dublin the week after, it raised the thought that sooner or later Youngs and Wilkinson may have to start together."
Martin Johnson's team are on a roll but need to find an attacking rhythm before they will spread fear in the southern hemisphere. The Obersver's Eddie Butler reports.
"There have been glimpses of Toby Flood taking the point of decision‑making into the very faces of his opponents, of the England pack mixing old set-piece virtues with a new off-loading daring, of Chris Ashton confirming England's surge of confidence with swallow-diving exuberance. But the rhythm of the games has been stuttering and the level of intensity has not sent any dials into a spin. Even England-France, which at one point in the first half was on course to become a classic, petered out in the second.
"This is not the first time the old championship has been accused of being a little too tribal to serve any master plan of mutual progress. The Six Nations is what it is and analysing it for quality can be a waste of time.
"There has been an increase in ball‑in‑play time. But this counts only if you regard running across the pitch as a positive use of time with the ball. The aerial ping-pong of last year has given way to trenches being worn at ground level by herds running from touchline to touchline."
Scotland flanker Kelly Brown tells Brendan Gallagher about overcoming his stammer in The Daily Telegraph.
"Physical pain was a fact of life at the coalface of elite rugby but it was the insidious mental strain of trying to cope with a lifelong stammer that was beginning to grind him down.
"Brown had just concluded a BBC interview on the eve of Scotland’s opening Six Nations game against France last year when he reviewed the tape with horror, so much so that he asked the Scottish Rugby Union press team to contact the BBC with a polite, very personal request that they scrap the item. Which they did.
“I hadn’t realised just how bad it had become, because most of the time you find ways of coping,” reflects Brown. “It was pretty awful and demoralising. I could hardly talk and when I was struggling for a word, like many stammerers, I started blinking and the eyes start rolling. It was distressing watching myself. ‘What must people think of me?’ was the question I kept asking.”
Richard Knowler reflects on an important evening for the Crusaders following their win over the Waratahs in The Press.
"Never in the history of the New Zealand rugby has a match been charged with so much sorrow as when the Crusaders faced the Waratahs at Trafalgar Park last night and, appropriately, tears dropped from the heavens.
"This week Brad Thorn said it was rugby that helped clear the skies during the bad times and for 80 minutes it helped Crusaders fans think about something else in Nelson.
"The Crusaders 33-18 triumph against the Waratahs was the tonic they needed. It almost defies belief that the Crusaders were able to muster the courage to win this, having watched their fellow Cantabrians experience so much grief after the February 22 earthquake that savaged Christchurch."
Brian Ashton compares the skills seen in a big weekend for union and league in The Independent
"It was what you might call a rugby-fest weekend. I watched from the touchline as Fylde beat Manchester 92-6 in a National Division Two game – 14 tries, every last one of them scored by a back – before casting an eye over three Six Nations matches and a Premiership contest on the talking box in the corner. There was also television coverage of a top-end rugby league game: the World Club Championship between Wigan and St George Illawarra, and I have to say that union coaches could do worse than study the way the Australian league players have mastered the core skills of running, with or without the ball, and handling.
"These skills are common to both codes, but in some respects the league game was a league apart. There was no aimlessness, no drifting around; no one spun out counter-productive mispasses that removed the sting and threat from an attack. We see so much of this in union these days, but the elite Australian league players have no truck with it. Instead, they generate tremendous pace, run outstanding angles from depth, change the momentum and focus of attack with wit and imagination, and handle the ball with unerring accuracy."
Shaun Edwards ponders the current mechanisms of the sin-bin and suggests an alternative in The Guardian.
"Yellow cards and sin-bins. Now these are subjects I really understand. When it comes to scrums and lineouts I take advice from those who know and who, hopefully, prevent me from putting my size eights where they don't belong. But first as a player and then as a coach I've come to understand what 10 minutes in the bin really means.
"As a player it always hurt – I was in the bin at Wigan so often that it was suggested a blue plaque be put on my seat – but as a coach I often have mixed feelings as I watch players trooping off. There can be pluses as well as minuses, and this is what needs addressing.
"First I have to say this has nothing to do with the referee Greg Garner and the yellow cards he showed to three Wasps players, Marty Veale, Tim Payne and John Hart, when we went down to Saracens at Adams Park last Sunday. These are thoughts that have been forming for a while but have come to the forefront of my mind during the past couple of Test series – the autumn and the Six Nations. Basically, I wonder whether we're being cute enough in how we operate the sin-bin and, increasingly, whether the punishment continues to fit the crime."
Hugh Farrelly takes aim at the Twitter hordes following Ireland's narrow win over Scotland in The Irish Independent.
"Twitter - don't use it, don't like it, don't trust it. But it's impossible to ignore as it continues to worm its way into every fissure of existence.
"The election, Ireland beating England at their own game, Usher lowering a few in city centre Dublin, it seems every event from the momentous to the inconsequential now prompts the question: "What's the reaction on Twitter?"
"The journalism business is parasitic by definition: you earn a living charting the achievements of others. That is not about to change any time soon, but it does not mean you have to go over the top."
A New Zealand newspaper has taken a swipe at Melbourne Rebels as they prepare to embark on their maiden overseas assignment against the Chiefs. The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever is the guilty party.
"To that end, they [the Chiefs] are fortunate the Rebels are coming to the Tron on Saturday night.
"The Melbourne side are a hotchpotch of has-beens, never-beens and might-bes. No self-respecting side with designs on the playoffs should lose to them, especially at home.
"Still, even the Rebels might not be the pushovers that were expected after they flubbed their lines in round one against the Waratahs.
"They turned around and beat the Brumbies, albeit in the most fortunate of circumstances who, you might recall, were coming off a win in round one - against the Chiefs."
The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reflects on the Brumbies' decision to give coach Andy Friend the boot.
"The Brumbies must have some coaching depth. Their media guide gushes that Andy Friend is a "world class" coach, a description they cannot change while the Super 15 side pushes on with replacement coach Tony Rae for the rest of the season.
"Friend's culling yesterday was as dramatic as the Broncos' sacking their coach Ivan Henjak just weeks before the start of the NRL. It had either been brewing for some time as chief executive Andrew Fagan suggested or it is the most staggering reaction to any result in Super rugby history.
"The Brumbies lost to the new Rebels side at the weekend, after playing like they were the new pickup side in the competition. They were woeful but somehow managed to hit the lead before an unfathomable penalty from referee Jonathan Kaplan sank them in the last minute."
We are into the third week of the Super Rugby season and the main South African hopes for success, the so-called big three, are all in the happy position of being unbeaten even though none of them have yet even come close to bringing out their A game.Supersport's Gavin Rich reports.
"The Sharks received some rave reviews for the convincing way they beat the Blues 26-12 in Durban last weekend, but they were still far from employing the style that won them the Currie Cup last season. After starting out with a bye, the Stormers predictably carried a lot of rust when they stuttered and bumbled their way to a narrow 19-16 win over the Lions in Cape Town.
"And the Bulls have made more of a statement as a team that is able to absorb pressure and still have the composure to win than as a team that stamps themselves on the game and the opposition. Yet they are in the great position of having two away victories to show for their efforts, and it is because those wins came away from home that of the three local sides, they are the best placed at the moment.
"There are reasons why all three of the sides have yet to hit their straps -- the Sharks coaches are quite open about the fact they struggle to play a quick paced, possession orientated game in the Durban humidity, the Stormers were always going to suffer for opening their competition season 80 minutes after their opponents, and the Bulls probably never had enough hard warm-up fixtures, which explains why they have yet to deliver a full 80 minute performance."
Four months after his entrance as an All Black, Sonny Bill Williams will play his first game of Super Rugby on Friday. The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever reports.
"With his innate sense of drama, he could hardly have a more emotionally charged stage for his Crusaders debut.
"The Crusaders travel to Nelson today for their first "home" game of the season and their first since the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch nine days ago.
"The convert from league describes himself as one of the "lucky" ones. He's been unable to access his central city apartment, crashing at a mate's place, and yesterday revealed that his mum, Lee, had wanted him back in Auckland in the days after the quake.
"But there are a lot of people much worse off than us," he said. "There's a lot of destruction. I count myself lucky and I know the rest of the boys do too."
The Crusaders are champing at the bit to face the Waratahs after using a sports psychologist to help deal with their emotions following the destructive Christchurch earthquake. Jamie Pandaram reports for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"Players spilled their emotions after a poor training session on Monday during which their heads were not clear. Yesterday, they were a team transformed, as coach Todd Blackadder said his side ''trained like demons''.
"The team enlisted sports psychologist Gilbert Enoka to prepare their players for the mental hurdles of tomorrow's match against NSW in the aftermath of New Zealand's second deadliest earthquake in history.
''Gilbert talked to the guys about the trauma they have been through and I think it really helped refocus us,'' Blackadder said. ''It just helps you focus, it makes you feel like all the thoughts and feelings you've been having are quite normal for a really abnormal situation.
''For us it was just really good to talk about it, it's really healthy, but we obviously parked it because we came out here and trained like demons so it was obviously worth it.''
Phil Godman is considering playing club rugby in Australia or New Zealand this summer in a bid to prove his fitness and form for inclusion in Scotland's World Cup squad. The Scotsman's David Ferguson reports.
"The 28-year-old stand-off suffered a cruciate ligament injury in Edinburgh training in September.
"Jason White, Simon Taylor and Nathan Hines, are other high-profile victims of similar injuries who experienced seven to nine-month recovery spells and, having undergone surgery in late October and now been given the all-clear to return to running, Godman is hopeful that he could be fit enough to play in May. Unfortunately, Edinburgh's season is set to end on the first weekend of that month.
"I would like to get back to playing for Edinburgh, but only if that was realistic," he said. "With the World Cup coming up I'd have to have played games to have a chance but, rather than play before I'm ready, I might go to the southern hemisphere, Australia or New Zealand probably, to get games.
"It was talked about when I had the injury, and is being talked about again now. All the (Scotland] guys will be in camp in June and July doing fitness work, but I'll have done that so my priority will be match fitness and sharpening up and, with no tours and only two World Cup warm-ups, I have to look to the south. But I'm happy with that. I obviously want to get back playing for Scotland again, and would love to be part of a World Cup, because I missed out on the last one, but I have to prove I am fit and in good form to achieve that."
The New Zealand Herald's Gregor Paul reflects on Steve Tew's tenure as chief executuve of the New Zealand Rugby Union and believes the positives outweigh the negatives.
"A holistic evaluation of the Tew era comes out favourably, though. There has been more good than bad.
"Expenditure has risen but look at the key reason why - the bulk of the best players have opted to stay here.
"Retaining Dan Carter and Richie McCaw came at a price but surely it's better to have them here and be dipping into reserves - there precisely to be dipped into in times of need. The All Blacks continue to be a hugely successful rugby team and even their worst recent year, 2009, saw them record a win ratio of almost 75 per cent.
"Total playing numbers have risen every year since 2007, as have the numbers of coaches, referees and volunteers.
"While the overall picture could possibly look better, it absolutely could be worse and the game here is stable, solvent, successful and potentially ready to capitalise from hosting the World Cup."
There is still a chance the Rugby World Cup will go ahead in Christchurch, according to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. The New Zealand Herald reports.
Questions have been raised about whether the city will be able to host the event, given predictions that it may take months to get essential services up and running following last week's 6.3-magnitude quake.
"There's a series of different boxes that will need to be ticked before we can say yes or no," Mr Key said.
"My strong preference is to hold the Cup in Christchurch if we can because I think it sends a very strong international message that Christchurch is going through a rebuilding phase, and equally, if we don't, sadly the message is it's not."
"Mr Key said the primary concern was ensuring the city's stadium was in the right condition to host games.
"That work is happening. If it doesn't pass that standard then obviously the cup has to be moved, if it does then we can work through the other logistical issues."
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reports that the Ireland team and management are set to review the latest rash of breakdown offences which contributed to the 13-4 penalty count against them at Murrayfield.
"The Irish starting XV which kicked off last Sunday’s win over Scotland will convene for a day-and-a-half camp in the Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare, today, with one of its primary purposes being to review the latest rash of breakdown offences which contributed to the 13-4 penalty count against them at Murrayfield.
"Whereas the seven replacements – Connacht’s Seán Cronin, Ulster’s Tom Court and Paddy Wallace, Leinster’s Leo Cullen and Jonathan Sexton, along with Munster’s Denis Leamy and Peter Stringer – have been released to return to their provinces this week, with a view to playing in the Magners League this weekend, the 15 starters will address the vexed issue of discipline which have blighted their Six Nations campaign to date.
"What is especially infuriating for management and players alike is that this rash of penalty infringements is undoing hours of video analysis and homework, such as bringing in Alain Rolland to referee a half-hour full contact session at the RDS last Wednesday in the build-up to the Scottish game. Neither Rolland nor another referee will be brought in over the next two days, but the dozen direct penalties are likely to be examined in fairly fine detail."
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports as Ireland's Keith Earls goes on the offensive in the face of criticism from fans.
"Earls, who had one of his finest games in a green jersey on Sunday, rallied to his team-mates' defence yesterday, labelling their online abusers "ridiculous".
"I have no interest in Facebook or Twitter or anything like that," said the 23-year-old. "I heard what happened because we were in the team room after the game and Cian Healy and 'Drico' were getting comments.
"A fellah was telling Drico to 'pack it in'. Absolutely ridiculous, they shouldn't be following them if they are going to be abusing them. The lads are good enough to let them know what's going on in their lives and they just come back talking bulls**t."
"Earls was the subject of heavy internet criticism himself in 2009 after a difficult start to the Lions tour and says that experience taught him not to read internet opinions after matches."
Andy Friend has become the second ACT Brumbies coach in seven seasons to lose his job because of conflict with players and team officials. The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden and Chris Dutton report.
"In 2004, David Nucifora was a victim of a player revolt but remained in charge until the end of that season, when the Brumbies went on to win the Super title - the last time an Australian team has done so.
"Friend's loss of support was more widespread. The Herald has been told that, apart from not having a tight relationship with a small group of senior Brumbies players, in the past month he lost the support of important allies within his back-up staff, including some of his assistant coaches. Senior assistant coach Tony Rea will be in charge for the remainder of the season but there is speculation attack coach Stephen Larkham is being considered for the head role in the future.
"Larkham was a player with the club in 2004 when Nucifora was removed from his position. Even before the first round, there were strong whispers Friend would be replaced because of conflicting messages being conveyed to the team by the head coach and some of his understudies."
In a column for Sport24, former Springboks international Breyton Paulse reflects on the opening Super Rugby action.
"Overall the new format is a positive in that since the start of Super Rugby the derbies have been the matches that have been the most keenly contested, the most physical and, perhaps most importantly, the clashes that most appeal to the public in terms of bringing people through the turnstiles.
"But from Bok coach Peter de Villiers’ viewpoint the new format must be a nightmare as already we have seen more blood flow than is usually the case and already the national coach also faces a few injury problems. As expected, the South African derbies have been more physical than the overseas games, and in time this could prove problematic for the Springboks.
"The coaches are really going to have to manage their players well during the Super Rugby season if they want to reach the business end of the competition in July with all their best players still standing and feeling refreshed enough to give it a full go in the knock-out stages.
"As far as all this relates to the South African World Cup chances later in the year, a lot will hinge on how well De Villiers works with the various local franchise coaches and conditioning personnel. He needs to be clear on everything he wants and expects from the franchise coaches, and they need to understand what he wants."
The Independent's Hugh Godwin reports from the England camp in Oxford as prop Andrew Sheridan is ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations.
""Sheridan missing the Italy game was a blessing in disguise," said Johnson. "It meant that when Corbs came off the bench last week it wasn't all brand new to him." There is another man doing the Premiership front-row rounds with considerable experience, and who is capable of propping both sides, but Johnson hinted that Matt Stevens' likelier chance of an international recall – following his recent comeback from a drugs ban – would be the summer matches with the Barbarians and in the Churchill Cup. "Our camp for the World Cup meets in June, and it [the contest for prop positions] could be very competitive," said Johnson.
"The manager had retained 20 players for three days of gentle training at St Edward's School, not far from that famous sporting venue at Iffley Road. But it was not just Sheridan who was unable to take part in a four-minute mile or any other kind of physical activity. Toby Flood, whose 51st-minute exit against France ushered on Jonny Wilkinson to kick a match-settling penalty, was resting a sore Achilles tendon in his right leg."
David Kelly analyses Jamie Heaslip's recent criticism of the Ireland selection policy in The Irish Independent.
"Sometimes perception is everything. As Ireland imploded during the 2007 World Cup, marooned in a soulless warehouse far from the civilised world, not one player from this privileged group sought to question what most on the outside perceived to be a rapidly disintegrating escapade.
"Not one player -- or coach for the matter -- questioned the suitability of the squad's conditioning or the fact that the first-choice XV had been effectively swathed in cotton wool since the conclusion of that year's Six Nations.
"The ultimate result? Ireland performed dismally at the World Cup and yet, astonishingly, few players or coaches sought to intelligently assess a freefall into decline that was only arrested when Eddie O'Sullivan left the head position following the 2008 championship."
Robert Kitson looks at the difficulties facing replacement fly-halves in The Guardian.
"Years ago – we are talking the end of last century – I remember asking England's Paul Grayson about life as a reserve fly-half. One of the biggest challenges, he reckoned, was coming on as a replacement and being instantly expected to influence a major Test match. At the time he and Jonny Wilkinson were jockeying for the England No10 role, with Grayson ultimately winning the nod for England's pivotal match of the 1999 World Cup, the quarter-final against South Africa in Paris.
"The Springboks, as you will recall, won that game with a fusillade of drop goals from Jannie de Beer. In my mind's eye I can still see Wilkinson lining up an awkward long kick at Parc des Princes, having come on only seconds earlier following Grayson's substitution. He missed and England duly lost. Expecting him to perform miracles from a standing start, we all agreed, was totally unfair.
"Fast forward to Twickenham last Saturday. England have a long-range penalty wide on the right but Toby Flood has a sore achilles and the management do not want him to aggravate it. On comes Jonny, arranges his hands in the old clasped-prayer position and lands one of the best kicks of his career. If ever a single kick reflected endless hours of mind-numbing practice, this was it. Clever old Jonny, still in a class of his own."
Peter Bills tips England for the Grand Slam after they learned further lessons against France in The Independent.
"They say you always learn most, not from your victories but your mistakes. If that is true, England’s burgeoning rugby team took a quantum leap forward last Saturday at Twickenham.
"In bright moments, golden instances that warm the soul and excite the eye, it might appear that England have completely mastered the nuances of this new game they have adopted this season, already incidentally with far greater success than any other international side in this part of the world.
"How accustomed have we become to the sight of Chris Ashton flying in at the posts, ball tucked under an arm as he swallow dives for the ground? Or Ben Foden, that dashing young English full-back, dashing upfield with an elusive step and stunning pace carrying him into the heart of the opposition defence?"