Six Nations 2021: English based players putting Wales at a disadvantage

Clive Woodward backs his compatriot, Simon Zebo explains Finn Russell’s nickname

Home based

For once there may be uniform agreement that the IRFU’s policy of selecting only players based in Ireland for international duty is actually beneficial particularly in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic and in comparison to the problems that the Welsh squad face.

Six players in a 36-man squad Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Will Rowlands (Wasps), Taulupe Faletau (Bath), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints), Callum Sheedy (Bristol Bears) and Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester) will have to return to their English clubs on the fallow weeks or on a Thursday when not involved in the matchday 23 during the 2021 Six Nations Championship.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac had been hoping that due to Coronavirus he would be in a position to retain all his players in a squad bubble environment for the entire campaign, thereby reducing the chance of his charges catching the virus or having to self-isolate in the case of being a close contact of a positive case. The increased risks to players exposed to more people by returning to clubs and spending time in England is obvious.

However English clubs have insisted that players return to play in Gallagher Premiership fixtures when circumstances permit. Wales were able to keep their players in camp during the autumn and didn’t return a single positive from 700 tests.

Quote of the week

"Ireland are in transition and actually I think Andy Farrell is handling it really well, getting older players re-motivated and easing young talent into the team. But this is just a really awkward away fixture to open with. Ireland will enjoy a strong tournament but I'm tipping Wales to nick this one."

Former England World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward.

Numbers game

£13.5 million: The Welsh government recently allocated the money to the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four franchises, with £10.5 earmarked for the professional game.

On this day . . .

February 2nd, 2002: Young Munster prop Peter Clohessy led Ireland onto the pitch on the occasion of his 50th cap and the day got even better for the home side at Lansdowne Road as they thrashed Wales, 54-10. In his first season as Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan watched his side cross for six tries through Geordan Murphy (2), Denis Hickie, Ronan O'Gara and two players on debut Paul O'Connell and Keith Gleeson. Man of the match David Humphreys kicked six conversions and two penalties and was a catalyst for several tries.

Wales were under the direction of future All Blacks World Cup winning coach Graham Henry. He said: "The Welsh public will be disappointed but we didn't go out there to lose. The Irish were superb and we were very disappointing. We lacked cohesion and confidence." Gale force winds meant that many Welsh supporters couldn't attend as sea and air travel was severely disrupted.

Earls try scoring exploits

Keith Earls may get the opportunity to climb the rankings should he play and score a try against Wales next Sunday. Along with Jacob Stockdale, Earls has scored four tries against the Welsh, three behind the leading Irishman in matches between the countries, Brian O'Driscoll who managed seven. The former Ireland captain is in second place on the list behind a Welshman John Lewis (Johnny) Williams, who scored eight tries in five appearances against Ireland from a tally of 17 caps.

That included two hat-tricks. On the second occasion a newspaper report noted: “Williams was right on top of his form, and his cleverness in beating three or four Irishmen, including the fullback, before he scored his three tries was really splendid.”

Friends zone

Simon Zebo and Scotland outhalf Finn Russell are great friends as well as Racing 92 teammates and it was the former Munster and Ireland international who gave the Scot the moniker 'white chocolate.' If you were unaware of why, then wonder no longer. Zebo clarified the origins of the nickname in a Midi Olympique interview: "I call him "white chocolate" because it reminds me of a former NBA player, Jason Williams (Miami Heat), whom American fans called that. Williams looks like Finn: on the pitch, he had incredible individual technique and made crazy moves, blind passes, between the legs, and like Finn, 'white chocolate' always played with a smile."