96 days to go now….

rugbyPool C features the perennial number 1 team in the World in New Zealand and nobody else in the top 7 teams of the current World Rugby rankings, so the All Blacks should cruise through as the top team. Argentina (who are ranked 8th in the world) however always save their best performances for World Cup games against the Kiwis, so there is 1 potential banana skin for Richie McCaw’s boys to avoid. Argentina should be the other qualifier in this group as the other 3 teams in Pool C are Tonga, Georgia and Namibia who all have excellent players in their ranks but not in the depth that the All Blacks and the Pumas (Jaguars. Tomato, tomato. yadda, yadda etc). Tonga vs. New Zealand at St James’ Park on a Friday night in October is almost certain to be a fiery affair and with Argentina’s last group game being against Namibia the All Blacks could need a convincing win to secure top spoor in the group. Jacques Burger leading his Namibian side against the All Blacks at the Olympic Stadium will be scintillating viewing too, if World Rugby’s player of the year Brodie Retallick didn’t know who Courtney Lawes was before the All Blacks played England last summer then he won’t know who Burger is. He definitely will by the 25th of September.
Only 15 ranking places separates the team’s in Pool D, with Ireland currently ranked 3rd , France standing at 7th, Italy 15th, Canada 17th and Romania 18th. Ireland have been in a phenomenal run since Joe Schmidt took over as their head coach picking up consecutive 6 Nations titles for the first time ever and won 17 out of 25 Test since the start of 2013 beating South Africa and Australia along the way. Ireland are not always at their most comfortable during World Cup tournaments though but with 2 games in London where there will surely have a raucous following should make them feel slightly more at ease than they have done in previous World Cups in France and New Zealand. France are the most unpredictable team in World Rugby, the fact that their coach will be leaving following this tournament should be an indication of exactly how disappointing they have been recently though. They should have enough to get past Canada and Romania although the Canadian back row and outside backs could well pose more than a few problems for a French backline who are regularly tinkered with by Phillipe Saint-Andre and the Romanian forwards will relish the challenge that Les Bleus forwards will provide them, so that might be a bit of a dog fight in the Olympic Stadium. Italy will have to battle the fact that they have a fairly old squad now with the occasional sprinkling of youth and with 4 games in 22 days they will do well to keep the squad intact let alone compete in every outing. The one they have got going for them is that their first game will be at Twickenham against the French so they should be able to give their Garibaldi Cup opponents both barrels and if they can upset Les Bleus then the Azzuri may very well finish 2nd in this group.
The first Quarter Final will almost certainly be contested between New Zealand and France in the Millennium Stadium, so if Wayne Barnes is reffing the ALL Blacks are toast! In all seriousness I can see France pulling out all the stops to upset the apple cart in Cardiff à la 2007. I can’t imagine that New Zealand will want a repeat of that result, but with the possibility of a few ageing bodies in their squad having to play 4 games in 19 days (finishing off with a bruising tussle with Tonga), no Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett coming off an injury spoiled season they are far from infallible. For the purpose of this flight of fancy we’ll say that the All Blacks will make it past the French and advance to a semi final in Twickenham. The second Quarter Final will in all likelihood be between South Africa and Wales in Twickenham (well it saves travelling too far for the semi’s) and while Wales have recently made a habit of getting dangerously close to the Springboks (and putting my own personal optimism to one side) they have never beaten them outside of Cardiff so I suspect the team who will face the daunting prospect of a meeting with the All Blacks in West London will be South Africa, with so many Springboks unlikely to play in another RWC they won’t to go out with a whimper in the first knockout phase. Quarter Final 3 will be played in Cardiff and should see Ireland take on Argentina, which could be tricky for an Irish side who won’t want to become embroiled in a forward battle with the Pumas I imagine the team who maintains discipline will be the victor here and while that will be a bit of a lottery and largely dependent on who is refereeing I’ll say Joe Schmidt will guide Ireland through to the semi final in Twickenham where they will meet England who should do a number on Samoa on their home field.

South Africa and New Zealand in a RWC semi final in Twickenham is a mouth watering prospect and certainly worthy of a RWC Final (remember 1994?) they have played some absolutely fantastic matches in the last 3 seasons and if Nigel Owens is refereeing then it might be time to get the abacus out to keep score. I think South Africa might just have enough forward power to upset the favourites (this is a World Cup remember, there has to be an upset somewhere along the lines) and advance to the final. In the second semi final England could actually face the prospect of playing a RWC semi final on their home pitch whilst being underdogs. Ireland have beaten England in 8 of their last 13 meetings and while England squeaked past the Irishmen 13-10 the last time they played at Twickenham I’m backing Ireland to send England to the Olympic Park for a 3rd and 4th playoff against New Zealand.
South Africa v Ireland in the RWC final then, since the 12th of June 2004 they have played each other 8 times and both have 4 wins so this could prove to be an intriguing finale to any tournament. You’d say South Africa would be favourites having had a more difficult path to the final but after battling with New Zealand having played Samoa and Wales they very well be depleted by the time they get to Twickenham on the final day of October so if Ireland are to win their first RWC this would be a perfect time. I still can’t shake the feeling that experience is more vital in a World Cup final than it is in any other big game so the trophy should be headed south of the equator as the Springboks scoop the big prize for a third time.
Oh yeah, does anyone care who “wins” 3rd place? No? I didn’t think so.

103 days ‘til the Rugby World Cup. But who’s counting? (cont.)

rugbyGroup B seems to be more of a one horse race than Group A with South Africa seemingly destined to easily win the group and progress to a Quarter Final in Twickenham. The battle for second in the group however is much more interesting with the teams ranked 9th, 10th, 13th and 16th all in with a chance of sneaking into the Quarter Finals. Samoa are the highest ranked of the teams battling it out for second place. They stand 1 place ahead of Scotland with Japan currently ranked 13th and the USA in 16th, although there are less than 8 ranking points separating all four of the sides.

Samoa are one of the Pacific Island teams who, like Fiji are bursting with talent but struggle to adapt to the structured nature of International rugby. However they have beaten Wales (who they could face in the Quarter Final stage) twice in previous World Cups and once more as recently as November 2012 in Cardiff, so they certainly won’t fear any opposition this autumn. If they can manage to compete at set piece time then a backline including the likes of former New Zealand 7’s representative Tim Nanai-Williams, Northampton Saints’ brothers Ken and George Pisi and the cousin of the late, great Jerry Collins Newcastle Falcons Sinoti Sinoti (who has notched up 10 tries in 27 appearances this season) will threaten opposing defences from all angles.

It’s difficult what to know what to expect from Scotland, in the Autumn of 2014 they were talked about as being a resurgent force under the stewardship of Kiwi coach Vern Cotter but during the 6 Nations they were beaten by everyone and ended the tournament with a resounding 40-10 thumping at the hands of tournament winners Ireland. Cotter responded by including 8 uncapped players in his initial World Cup training party including South African born W.P Nel and Josh Strauss and New Zealand born Hugh Blake who has only played 3 professional games in Scotland since he moved there last year. Scotland’s main problem is that their best 4 players are all scrum halves and they can’t seem to find an outside half who can consistently provide the structure needed to provide scoring opportunities for their potent outside backs like Stuart Hogg and Tim Visser.

Japan and the United States are in similar positions as the Pacific Island nations in as much as they have an array of talented players but they are spread across a large number of foreign countries as they ply their trade in different top flight league’s so they often struggle for consistency both in selection and in terms of team cohesion. The USA however have made serious improvements in recent years and with 7’s now being an Olympic sport Rugby Union is becoming increasingly popular and the money on offer for playing top flight rugby is attracting the interest of athlete’s who do not quite make in more traditional American sports like American Football and Athletics, particularly sprinters like Carlin Isles and Perry Baker who have been recently seen ripping defences to shreds on the IRB 7’s tour. If Rugby continues to enjoy support in the States and it should do after they won the Twickenham leg of the IRB 7’s series this year then the USA will become a serious threat in future World Cups.

South Africa would have suffer an unusual number of injuries to not win all of their group games and qualify for the Quarter Finals and I think that Samoa should have the individual flair to finish second, but as all the other teams really have the same weakness, a lack of organisation and a 10 who can consistently make good decisions and provide an accurate tactical kicking game there really is a Quarter Final spot up for grabs in this group.

103 days ’til the Rugby World Cup. But who’s counting?

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Predicting who will win a tournament that doesn’t start for over 3 months, a full month before the Rugby Championship has even began in the Southern Hemisphere and when no coaches have even finalised their squad’s would be utter madness, but hey there’s not much going on in my world at the moment, so here goes.
Group A seems a logical place to start and when it was drawn it was immediately given the moniker “group of death” (original, eh?) but for me it has since become more of a group of opportunity with the winner facing a Quarter Final against either Samoa, the USA or Scotland and a possible Semi Final against Ireland. 3 of the top 6 teams in World rugby will be vying for 2 qualification spots so one of the big teams will miss out and with Fiji currently 11th in the world rankings and Fijian players standing out in Super Rugby, the Top 14, the Pro 12 and the Aviva Premiership it’s hard to rule them out of contention in the group either.
Australia, England and Wales are 3 of the top 6 teams in the World at the moment (according to the World Rugby rankings) and as somebody who’s taken a keen interest in the Super Rugby season I can honestly say I can’t remember a more disappointing showing from the Australian franchises in recent times. Australia are currently ranked 6th with Wales 5th and England 4th, so theoretically Australia should be the team to miss out however English player’s are doing their damndest to make Stuart Lancaster’s coaching job neigh on impossible.
Between Wales selecting players who could have been in England’s squad and English players getting themselves injured, banned or arrested England (who should be favourites with home advantage) are now having to cobble together a team from players who even 6 weeks wouldn’t have been expecting to make the training party let alone starting against Fiji in a little under 15 weeks.
This leaves Wales who showed why it’s impossible to predict what they will do in this year’s 6 Nations tournament. After a mediocre last 60 minutes against England which resulted in a 16-21 loss in Cardiff they improved progressively, building to a crescendo when a Liam Williams inspired team thrashed Italy 61-20 in Rome in the final round of games.
The major concern for Wales is the injuries they have accumulated over the last season. Samson Lee was injured in their first 6 Nations game and has been recuperating and rehabbing from an Achilles tendon operation for 5 months, fellow tight head Rhodri Jones has not played during the second half of the season after dislocating a shoulder, Outside Centre Jonathan Davies has been ruled out of the World Cup after rupturing his cruciate ligaments playing for Clermont and the highest profile injury (possibly in World rugby) George North. He’s the youngest Welsh player to win 50 caps at the unfeasibly young age of 22 has not played since March after suffering a 3rd concussion in 4 months and as he’s yet to pass all the concussion protocols his health is rightly taking precedent over his career. Injuries are probably less of a concern for Wales than they are for most teams though because their current style of play is designed to be more about the system than the personnel in that system, the one area of real concern is the front row and if Samson Lee and Rhodri Jones are unable to play any part in the tournament then Welsh chances will almost evaporate in front of them.
Fiji are and always have been a team comprised of fantastically talented individuals who are not always able to become a team that matches the sum of their parts. If they can maximise their talents then with players like the 6ft 5 inch and 20 plus stone Nemani Nadolo, 6ft 5 and near 19 stone Taqele Naiyarovo will be almost unstoppable for opposing wingers, just as they have in Super Rugby this season.

Beyond the fact that they have 2 players who ply their trade in Pro D2 in France and that they only have 2 players over the age of 30 in their squad there’s not really much to say about Uruguay but hopefully this tournament will serve as a learning experience for their young squad or maybe a shop window and more of them will be seen playing in top European league’s in the not too distant future.  For the very near future though I fear they will be the whipping boys of the group.
I’m hoping that the Wales are at full strength and their level of performance in all of their group games is the same one they met in Rome in March, but as everyone knows Wales, good fortune and major tournaments are very rarely in the same place so I suspect home advantage will be enough to see England topping the group of death (I’m also predicting no actual deaths will occur in the group). The second place team will have a terrifically difficult Quarter Final ahead of them, probably against South Africa who love a World Cup and the likely winner of this dubious prize will be whoever wins when Wales meet Australia in Twickenham on Saturday October the 10th. Unless Australia’s players have a serious turnaround in form and fortune then Wales should be the ones who get to look forward to the tough Quarter Final at Twickenham the following Saturday.

Wales v Ireland

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Wayne Barnes replacing Steve Walsh on the whistle is probably the biggest news ahead of this game, let’s hope it doesn’t affect the outcome of the game (although I am minded of a recent game Wales played in Cardiff against Australia where Barnes avoided awarding a scrum for 45 minutes because, possibly as a result of his own lack of confidence when it comes to judging the set piece). Shaun Edwards claimed this week that Ireland deliberately avoided choke tackling English players in their previous match because they didn’t fancy their chances at scrum time, so both front rows and refereeing interpretation could have a bearing on the final result. Statistically Wales have had the better scrum so far in the tournament with a success rate of 87% on the their own feed while Ireland’s success rate has been slightly inferior at 80%, when it comes to line out time though the Irish have a formidable 90% success rate on their own throw compared to a rather worrying 78% success for the Welsh.
Presumably Wales will look to use the scrum as their most potent attacking weapon but as Ireland have the worst tackle completion rate in the tournament it would be prudent if Wales allow their back’s to use the first phase ball their scrum should secure rather than trying to milk penalties from a pushing contest. Robbie Henshaw missed a rather worrying 30% of the tackles he attempted last time out against England so Wales would do well to try to get some of their better ball carriers like Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Davies into the 12 channel early on Saturday (although under Howley’s rather vanilla “attack” coaching Wales mainly rely Jamie Roberts).
The lineout has been Wales’ stumbling block on more than 1 occasion in recent memory against Ireland and with Paul O’Connell winning his 100th cap this weekend he’ll definitely be looking to tear it apart again. Unfortunately the only way I can see the line out not being a problem for Wales is if they can avoid having any particularly in their own half and the inclusion of Liam Williams in the back 3 may help them to field and return as many of Ireland’s kicks as possible but if they drop 2 players into the backfield every time Ireland have the ball then Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney will have acres of space to run into so there will certainly be a fine line for Wales to tread in defence.
“Modified training” was a pretty choice of words when the Irish camp described Jonny Sexton’s return from a hamstring problem this week and the return of Jamie Heaslip from “3 fractured vertebrae” seems bordering on the miraculous (maybe he’s walking from Dublin to Cardiff too) but in Ian Madigan and Jordi Murphy Ireland certainly have more flair on the bench than Wales do and Joe Schmidt has shown that he’s not afraid to use his substitutes, unlike Warren Gatland who one imagines would only let Rhys Priestland on the pitch if it were a matter of life and death (probably Gatland’s own).
Wales have scored more tries than Ireland in the Championship so far so there’s always that glimmer of hope to hang on to, that’s not the only chink of light for Welsh supporters either, remember when Jonny Sexton had the chance to put the final nail in the All Black’s coffin in the Aviva Stadium and he missed the posts? If it comes down to a nervy penalty kicking contest between Halfpenny (or Biggar) and Sexton (or Madigan) then you’d be tempted to favour the British Lion and last year’s Pro 12 player of the season. On the subject of penalties, a lot will depend on the refereeing interpretations of one Mr. Barnes and last week in Bath when they played Sale nobody (watching or playing) really understood what Wayne was doing in the middle so expect a certain measure of controversy. For what it’s worth Wales have given more penalties than Ireland (who have the best discipline in the tournament, although it could be argued they’ve got the plum draw of referee’s too) this year 34 to 26.
I’m not making any predictions but unless Sam Warburton actually proves that he’s deserving of the title “Wales most captain” then Ireland and Sean O’Brien along with Peter O’Mahony will be the benefactors of the sort of dour, trench warfare that saw them see off England comfortably last time out.

Wales v England 2015

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Even Brian Moore thinks England have no chance in Cardiff and with their many and frequent injuries there will certainly be chances for Wales to exploit a number of new English combinations, but if there’s one accusation that could be levelled at England and in particular the English coaching team in recent times it’s that they may have become a little stale so the enforced changes could freshen them up. With the furore surrounding the roof (of all things) there’s a few personnel aspects that seem to have gone slightly under the radar.
For a start one can’t help feeling that Warren Gatland has missed a trick by not selecting Gareth Anscombe for his Welsh debut on this game, albeit it would have been off the bench but England’s incumbent number 10 George Ford has 1 very bad memory of Anscombe from the 2011 Junior Rugby World Cup final when Anscombe’s New Zealand U20’s side aka the Baby Blacks came from behind to beat Ford’s England team with Anscombe scoring 18 points. A more pressing concern for Welsh fans in Gatland’s omission is that he has instead chosen Rhys Priestland whose talent’s should by no means be discounted but when Anscombe & Priestland met head to head in the Pro 12 Anscombe scored 11 points as the Blues ran out 21-9 winners. Another worry for Priestland is that when he has played without a creative force in midfield, usually in the shape of Gareth Owen the Scarlets’ attacking play has looked severely blunted this season and the Welsh midfield is a lot of things but creative is not in their lexicon. If Wales need somebody to change the game in the last 20 minutes you could argue an ex Baby Black would bring the little bit of assurance and even swagger needed to wobble what is sure to be a determined and resolute English team. It would seem to prudent to mention in passing that Owen Williams has been very impressive at 10 for Leicester Tigers for almost 2 seasons now but his omission from the entire 6 Nations squad and not just the game day 23 must be entirely politically motivated.
The addition of a rejuvenated Danny Cipriani to England’s match day squad is more than a slight headache for both of Wales’ Fly Halves who would both rather defend against a less dynamic number 10, preferably one who is just going to guide his forwards around the pitch with his tactical kicking a la George Ford. If Cipriani is to be England’s Superman then Wales’ defense coach and Cipriani’s former head coach (and before that backs coach) at Wasps Shaun Edwards may well be his kryptonite, Edwards will surely have a few tricks up his sleeve to negate Cipriani’s potency (if he was going down the predictable route he may well just throw Justin Tipuric on to add to some extra pace to the Welsh cover defence). An outside half who actually challenges the defensive line provides more difficulties than a midfield ball carrier would since Wales’s defensive Captain is inside centre Jamie Roberts and both Roberts and centre partner Jonathan Davies (who have 107 caps between them) are experts on knowing when to drift or blitz and in doing so preventing any incisive breaks in midfield. Wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert have come in for some, mainly unwarranted criticism for perceived defensive frailties but the back 3 players who have scored tries against Wales in the last 12 months are a pretty impressive group; Wille Le Roux, Cornell Hendricks, Israel Folau and Julian Savea have all had a pretty exceptional 12 months so to criticise defenders for not stopping such clinical finishers seems like carping for the sake of it. Fullback Lee Halfpenny is becoming known for his trademark try saving commitment, which as often as not ends up with him relying on his body more than his technique and occasionally results in him popping off the pitch for a quick “head injury assessment”.
With such a solid Welsh defence out wide the close quarters battle between each team’s respective packs will be key and Warren Gatland’s decision to leave out Bradley Davies who has been in a rock in the Wasps pack this season is strange unless it’s a purely politically driven decision (although Luke Charteris who has taken the 3rd lock spot is another who plays his club rugby outside Wales in Paris for Racing Metro). Davies has been an expert at splitting driving mauls when defending for Wasps and along with England’s blind side (although he’s clearly a more destructive force as a 7) James Haskell he’s been one of the main reasons that Wasps sit 4th in the Aviva Premiership. Davies has been key in Wasps scrums too this season in the “engine room” and when he hasn’t been on the field their scrum has looked a lot less stable. Incidentally Haskell will be one of the most influential players on the field and unless Wales can open up the English defence and score some tries the penalties that Haskell is bound to win at the breakdown may well give George Ford the chance to win the game with his boot.
Possibly Wales brightest star in the squad is tight head prop Samson Lee who is set to make his 6 Nations debut in this game, Lee is a fierce scrummager and if the pitch (which has been replaced at a cost of £1.7 million to the tax payer, allegedly) can hold up and French referee Pascal Gauzere can establish a grip at the set piece Lee may well be the cornerstone for a dominant Welsh pack. Lee has good memories of playing against England loose head Joe Marler as his Scarlet’s team met Marler’s Quins in the last Heineken Cup with Lee’s side providing the upset of the tournament as the Scarlets turned over Quins at the Stoop 26-33, although he did get a yellow card in that game so he’s no angel.
Although the roof is a massive red herring the atmosphere inside the Stadium will undoubtedly be electric and extremely noisy (Stuart Lancaster can’t seriously think, or even hope opening the roof will instantly turn it into a library) but this doesn’t always play into the home team’s hands. Wales have been known to feel the wrath of the local fans and particularly against their bitterest of enemies if they don’t get off to a fast start by playing some exciting rugby (which is not always Gatland and Howley’s forte) then 70,000 supporters (we’re letting a few away fans in, right?) will voice their displeasure. I for one hope the home team are lifted by the fervour and noise and not crushed under the weight of expectation, but don’t believe all you read it’s definitely a 2 horse race.

6 Nations 2015

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France haven’t won the 6 Nations since they did the Grand Slam in 2010 which, allied to the fact they’re 4th favourites with the bookies, makes my fancying them to do it this year even more irrational than most of my ideas. The return of Captain and former IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir should galvanise Philippe Saint-Andre’s side and combined with the fact that Saint-Andre appears to have settled on the makeup of what had been an ever changing backline Dusautoir’s return should coincide with a turnaround in “les bleu’s” modest 6 Nations record. Dusautoir will command a lot more respect from his players than last year’s replacement Pascal Pape did last season and they should be a more disciplined outfit who don’t concede as many penalties and collect as many cards as they have done in the past. One of the key players in the French backline will be Clermont Auvergne’s fly half Camille Lopez, who ironically is a player of impish flair like Saint- Andre was, his ability to make space for the expert finishers out wide like Teddy Thomas, Yoann Huget, Lopez’s club teammates Wesley Fofana and the new boy (new to the 6 Nations at least) Noa Nakaitaci will be crucial, Lopez will also bring a consistency to the goal kicking that France have not always enjoyed.
Writing off England is never a good idea but as we’ve all heard, they will be missing 13 players for the first game in Cardiff and whilst expecting Wales to do anything is as daft as writing off England is 13 is quite a few! England will be looking to give players who wouldn’t usually be thrown into competitive Test match rugby experience in World Cup year and while James Haskell has been in the form of his life for Wasps and backs like Danny Cipriani and Jonathan Joseph can leave defenders grasping at thin air they could find it difficult to play their natural games behind a front 5 missing the World’s best loose head prop in Alex Corbisiero and 2 exceptional lock’s in Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury.
Ireland haven’t won back to back 6 Nations Championships, well technically ever, their last consecutive tournament victories were in 1948 and 1949 when it was the 5 Nations Championship. Joe Schmidt may well provide to be the catalyst to turn that run around this year but they face France in Dublin and they haven’t beaten the French in Ireland since they moved to the Aviva Stadium. Ireland also have to take on Italy where they lost in 2013 and traditionally become in a forward dominated struggle playing straight into Italian hands. Ireland also have to visit the Millennium Stadium where Wales and Warren Gatland will have more than 1 score to settle after the men in green trounced the valley boys by 20 points in the first half 2 years ago.
Scotland are on un upward curve under new coach Vern Cotter and have been boosted by the return of British Lion Ryan Grant to their ranks (after he was cleared of being involved in an assault). Having only managed to defeat Italy in last year’s last year’s tournament they surely have to improve on that performance but whether they can challenge France in Paris and England in Twickenham remains to be seen.
Wales, despite what Warren Gatland and the rest of his coaching team say are solely focused on improving their fitness for the upcoming RWC and if their Autumn International campaign is anything to go by then they will struggle in the early rounds, especially in Cardiff against a depleted English side who will certainly be fired up and may not hit their straps until they play Scotland in round 4, or at all.
Italy are always impossible to predict, more often than on find themselves on the end of contentious refereeing decisions and like Wales suffer from having a very unreliable surface at their home stadium. One thing you can say with any certainty is they have a pack that will cause most teams in the world trouble and as their November clash with the Springboks showed they are not far away from taking a big scalp.

Super Bowl XLIX

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Controversy has reigned over both team’s build up to this game and to fully discuss who did or did not lower the air pressure of the balls used in the AFC Championship or to try and even contemplate why Richard Sherman thinks all neutral football fans will support a Seahawks team who have a very sketchy record of failed PED test’s in their recent history AND were fined $300,000 for conducting extra contact sessions during preseason would take aeons.
Statistics wise the Seahawks can boast the best running back in the postseason in Marshawn Lynch who has 216 yards on the ground at an average of 108 yards per game, the Patriots leading rusher LeGarrette Blount has just 149 yards (74.5 yards per game) but he does have 3 touchdowns in the playoffs, 2 more than Lynch. The Patriots have averaged a rather astonishing 40 points per game in the postseason and have the best receiver playing in this game in Julian Edelman who has 17 receptions for 172 yards, Danny Amendola and Tight End Rob Gronkowski are 2 of 3 players in the game with 2 postseason touchdown receptions, the third being the Seahawks Jermaine Kearse who only has 4 receptions in the playoffs but 2 of them have resulted in touchdowns! The Seahawks have instead relied on their defence to win them games all season and into January so while they have averaged 29.5 points per game they have only allowed 19.5 per game.
Bizarrely 2 players in the “greatest show on earth” have a perfect passer rating during the playoffs but neither of them are Quarterbacks, Seahawks Punter Jon Ryan has thrown 1 pass for a touchdown and Patriots receiver Julian Edelman (who Tom Brady says can do everything) has also recorded a touchdown pass although Edelman’s was a whopping 51 yarder compared to Ryan’s rather modest 19 yarder (but Edelman’s was thrown to fellow wide receiver Amendola whilst Ryan’s was caught by an Offensive Tackle). Another strange statistic is that both teams have only made 1 successful Field Goal during the postseason, there’s more than a reasonable chance that will change tonight since the “greatest show on earth” very rarely encapsulates the greatest game and this game will have a long way to go to live up to the tension of the NFC Championship game or to the point scoring of the Patriots AFC Divisional round game against the Ravens.
According to the numbers the Patriots should be able to score enough to prevent the Seahawks from becoming the first team to win back to back Super Bowls in a decade but anybody who saw just how terribly the Seahawks played in the NFC Championship game against the Packers knows that they have the strength of character to find a win in the most unlikely of places. Tom Brady will be desperate to win his 4th ring in his 15th year as a professional but there’s more than a chance that all the talk of “deflate-gate” has put unwanted pressure on a Patriots outfit who have been reminded of previous indiscretions. I’m going for a Seahawks victory but with Richard Sherman’s partner extremely close to going into labour, Kam Chancellor suffering an injury in Friday’s practice session and Earl Thomas suffering a separated shoulder in the NFC Championship game the “Legion of Boom” could be more like the “Legion of Gloom”.