Weekly Ramblings Returns

Issue 8 – Tuesday 2 June 2020

Introduction

Its been a long time since I tried to keep a weekly blog and in hindsight its confusing why I didn’t start my ramblings back up earlier in this long-lasting lockdown. Maybe I naively considered the comings and goings of life at home to be uninteresting or maybe there is a more prevalent unwillingness to delve into my personal exploits.

This when there are so pressing matters in the public sphere. In fairness, there are always more pressing matters, but this week’s media and social media coverage is arguably all encompassing in its significance.

Whatever the reason, when writing I did feel anxious about delving into the news of the last several weeks and the one particular story which has rightfully been circulating this past week.

Alternatively, I think the terrifying, but important events of last week should be mentioned on this platform. Unfortunately these most definitely belong in the darkest recesses of The Bad and The Ugly sections of this week’s ramblings.

I want to however, begin on the good which I’ve experienced on a personal level in a world which feels unequally depressing at the moment. I don’t want to avoid the more global societal issues which should involve everyone, but have decided to conclude the following ramblings with them.

The Good

As we pass the 70 day mark of this unprecedented lockdown there are some positives to be found on a personal level.  One of these being that my wild haired and physically stronger stay at home comrade hasn’t yet murdered me as I sleep restlessly.

Indeed, I don’t think its too much of a stretch to boldly my brother and I have almost enjoyed each other’s company, despite the numerous bad habits which he has to put up with.

With the slight easing of restrictions we have manged to kick a ball around in the park this week. This to our neighbours relief as they have had to put up with endless rounds of garden cricket. We’ve also provided good company for each other on cycle runs. I slowly becoming accustomed to the uncomfortable combination of wearing tight Lycra on an incredibly solid saddle.

Taking it in turns to cook meals, I have also managed to avoid food poisoning any of my current housemates. Perhaps even improving on the little cooking skills in my locker before Covid-19 arrived and eating slightly healthier. You quickly realise when eating an orange for a cheeky afternoon snack feels unusual that you’re lazy student induced diet was likely pretty appalling.

My gradual re-introduction into the world of road cycling has also been of benefit to my physical and mental health. Last week’s sunshine and balmy temperatures have been advantageous to achieving 200 kilometres over the seven days, most of these miles being collected in the short ride out to Linn O’Dee.

At a time when the guidance is to stay local the ‘Linn Loop’ is a solid ride which ordinarily takes 40-45 minutes to complete. With a small hill on the return to Braemar I’ve tentatively taken up Strava again in the search for my best time. Frustratingly, I have now equalled my best time twice, one measly second needed to get a personal record. Its motivation to keep plugging away at it I guess.

During lockdown I have also discovered Netflix Party, a tool which has been useful for binge watching Orange is the New Black with my girlfriend while she isolates in Aberdeen. There is some comfort in being able to relay your impressions of the show while watching it together. Although, patchy WiFi and a six-year-old acer laptop can make this is a frustrating process.

A final re-discovery has been in reading and last week I managed to eventually finish Ned Boulting’s On the Road Bike. I found this very readable account of the anecdotes and more outlandish characters of the British cycling scene to be both honest and insightful. Inspiring also to a part-time cyclist with some of the gear and no idea.

My current read is now The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a book which unsurprisingly can prove complex and heavy reading. The author goes in hard on Facebook and Google, with some of the developments within sharing similarities to an episode of the dark yet brilliant Black Mirror. 

The Bad and the Ugly 

As the aftershocks of the horrific actions of a thoroughly isolated police officer in the United States and the Coronavirus death rate grows, it seems shamefully churlish to complain about my current circumstances.

The United States of America. A country which I think similarly to the UK enjoys seeing itself as exceptional and an effective practitioner of equal human rights. Unless you are living under a rock you have likely seen the evil and horrendous footage of a Minneapolis police officer unashamedly suffocating a unarmed black man.

You could say this has a detrimental on a country which prides itself on personal liberty and human rights. But the man in the White House is more focused on photo opportunities and holding a Bible uncomfortably like someone who claims to be Christian while having very non-christian values.

Personally, I was shocked by my lack of surprise at the video of the original incident. The footage itself was harrowing and shocking in how avoidable the tragic outcome of those 8 minutes, 46 seconds where George Floyd was pinned to the ground by his neck was.

But this is frighteningly not a rare occurrence. Mr Floyd didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.

As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from white privilege, it is a sharp reminder I need to educate myself on where I’ve benefited from inherent racism. A racism which is likely less distinct than the unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of merciless police officers or disgusting racial slurs.

Great Britain as a whole, urgently needs to discuss its colonial and imperial past and far from perfect present. This island nation is no beacon of shining light when discussing global inequality. Indeed, Scots who have seemingly enjoyed the tag of being viewed as a more liberal counter-balance to an England arguably struggling to find its identify need to do the same.

A lack of personal action against racism witnessed at school or in other sociable areas is likely linked to an anxious response to potential conflict or confrontation. It is shameful and fallible that it has taken this to spark this thinking process for myself on a personal level. This needs to go further than a shared hashtag on Instagram or a brief moment heart searching thinking.

Finally, the widely shared row of houses analogy which has been used to deligitimise the philosophy of the All Lives Matter movement in comparison to the Black Lives Matter movement is an important one.

If one house on a street of several houses is obviously on fire it makes little sense to aim a fire hose at the neighbouring properties. When it comes to racial inequality, and the in depth effects which this can have on an individual’s lifestyle, my house isn’t on fire. This isn’t about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up eh Road

Before setting out on my long-suffering Cannondale bicycle last week I first delved into my inconsistent Strava history. Strava for those unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately out of the loop, is an app which provides a relatively detailed account of how far or fast you have gone on a ride or a run.

According to my run-dominated profile, my lonely steed hadn’t been ridden for at least seven months, which is likely a long time in bike years. So, when considering how to keep my restless legs entertained during lockdown I decided to boldly go where my legs hadn’t been for a while.

The first two ventures on my bike didn’t take me far from home. This was partly due to the lockdown restrictions, but mostly because my runner legs weren’t pleased with this foreign activity. My backside was also displeased at taking an unacquainted battering from a hard road bike saddle.

Pressing on from unfortunate innuendos however, and I want to put a positive spin (see what I did there) on these two 30-mile cycles. Despite some unfortunate gearing issues and the incessant wind which seemingly blows down the two valleys which define Braemar’s environs, I could still ride a bike. That in itself was pleasing.

Next on the agenda was to discover whether yours truly and a mistreated 2014 Cannondale could tackle a good old-fashioned hill. Setting out on another planned local ride to Fraser’s Bridge and around to the Linn of Quoich, I climbed carefully out of the village and towards Glenshee Ski Centre. My unambitious plan was to turn off well before the climb at the top of the valley, taking a U-turn along the rough and bumpy golf course road and back into the village.

After riding for ten minutes into a slight headwind, the crossing over the 18th century crossing over the River Clunie came into sight. I looked up from my unprofessional position on my bike and caught a glimpse of wild lands which lay beyond. It was mild yet dull morning and low cloud enveloped the summits of munros such as Cairn an Tuirc, amongst others which I knew surrounded the nearby ski centre.

The right turn never came, and I could almost hear my brain arguing with my legs. If I wanted an insight into any leftover climbing resolve from last summer this was a primary opportunity. Though in all honesty, the climb up to the popular snow sports destination wasn’t actually that steep. I reckon it must average a 5-6% gradient from the Sean Spittal Bridge and its non-descript layby.

That is where I’d argue the climb begins good and proper for just over two kilometres. This is where you say goodbye to the valley floor and your hopes and dreams. It is a lesser climb from Fraser’s Bridge up until that point and can be a struggle in the prevailing south-westerly which consistently blows down Glen Clunie.

Passing through the barren landscape of very few trees and an occasional uninterested sheep, I finally reached the bottom of the climb. The wind dropped as a shifted down the gears. This was the moment of truth. Could I still climb?

The answer is complicated. Breathlessly slugging my way past the desolate ski centre with its deserted café and chairlifts, I eventually reached the ‘Welcome to Perth & Kinross’ sign (pictured).

The last stretch of the hill had been the most challenging, as I struggled to find a suitable gear on my worn-out chain set. Perhaps its worth pointing out here there often isn’t a correct gear. Climbing in granny gear is still unlikely to be an enjoyable affair for the mere cider guzzling student amateur.

I had however, survived the dreaded climb, also avoiding any serious incident on the steep descent back into the valley. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to tackle the other side as well. But’s that can be for another week…or month.

Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.

Aberdeen Caley Coaches Disappointed but Understanding of Decision to Call the Season Void

Posted – 24/03/20

It would be naïve to suggest rugby is on anyone’s priorities list as the globe battles a devastating pandemic.

Nevertheless, a decision had to be made by Scottish Rugby about how to finish the domestic season following the suspension of all rugby in Scotland on the 13th March.

On Tuesday a decision was reached to null and void the league season, preventing any form of automatic promotion or relegation.

An SRU statement detailed this outcome had been delivered as part of a wide-ranging consultation period which involved every club in Scotland, although at least Northern Caledonia side has claimed they weren’t consulted.

The governing body provided five different options to the clubs and noted that around half of them had opted to call the season as null and void.

The second most popular option was to finish the season with the current positions of each club, while another was to award two points to each team for any outstanding fixtures.

Other options involved calculating an average of points over the season and counting earlier fixtures as double headers.

However, Orkney claim they weren’t consulted and despite the difficult circumstances, can be forgiven for feeling hard done by after they looked certain to be promoted to the National Leagues.

The Islanders were eight points clear with two games in hand at the top of Caledonia One when the season was suspended last month.

In Caley Two, Aberdeenshire also saw their promotion hopes being quelled having already gained a place in Caley One next season.

Shire’s Head Coach, Barny Henderson believes a different outcome would have perhaps been preferable.

He said: “The option of awarding two league points for each remaining game would have been fairer.”

“For us its disappointing because we’ve played all our games and gained every point we need to get promoted.”

“I feel very bad for Orkney and Marr who were likely to win their first Premiership title this season.”

“The club has worked hard to return to Caley One which is where I believe Aberdeenshire belong, but in the wider sense this outcome won’t be that important in a few years and we now have an added incentive to be successful again next season.”

Henderson isn’t overly critical of the SRU but does register some frustration at past scheduling decisions and the unseen impact which they are having now.

He adds: “In hindsight its frustrating that the clubs agreed to play through the international games this season, but the SRU didn’t want them to.”

There is a recognition that those weekends lost to international fixtures could have made significant inroads into any matches which hadn’t been fulfilled across the leagues when the Covid-19 outbreak stopped play.

Aberdeen Wanderers aren’t likely to have felt as aggrieved by the null and void outcome as they sat fourth in Caley One when the season ended, unable to realistically challenge for silverware.

Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur said: “It’s an unprecedented situation we are in at the moment and I’m comfortable with the way the SRU went about the decision in asking the clubs what they thought should happen.”

“We can’t expose anyone involved with the club to any unnecessary risks but is it disappointing to lose that momentum that Wanderers have built across all facets of the club this season.”

Meanwhile, RAF Lossiemouth and Aberdeen University Medics had already wrapped up the Caley Three and Four titles respectively before Tuesday’s announcement.

However, the decision does favour Gordonians in National Two who were in the midst of a difficult battle for survival near the bottom end of the table.

The reality is that a difficult decision has been made at a time when rugby isn’t at the forefront of discussion.

There is a shared recognition of the unprecedented situation we as a society now face and it has been heartening to see ongoing community work which countless teams have have initiated during this global crisis.

Caledonia Two: Aberdeenshire leave it late to beat resilient Ross Sutherland

Aberdeenshire 29 (14)

Ross Sutherland 26 (12)

Aberdeenshire finished off a successful season with the narrowest of wins against a tough Ross Sutherland side. 

This game was always in the balance, with Paul Harrow’s penalty at the death proving the difference in a tight encounter.

Harrow had opened the scoring for Aberdeenshire early on and both teams claimed try scoring bonus points, sharing eight tries between them at Wooside.

Scrappy start feeds into running rugby

 

The hosts’s stand-off opened the scoring on ten minutes from close range after a slightly hectic opening period which saw several handling errors in muddy conditions.

Ross Sutherland then responded almost instantly through Chris Watt who found a gaping whole in the hosts’ defence to score.

The hosts then hit the front again through Andy Forman who latched onto a Jamie Stephen pass, the Full-back doing well to set Forman on his way for the score.

Watt then added his second for Ross just before the break to make it a two point game again as the flanker made a good break to leave a disorganised Aberdeenshire defence behind.

Indeed, the Invergordon side started the second-half brightly as well, with centre, Ali Kennedy finishing of a good team try.

John Mann’s conversion made it 14-19 and it briefly looked like there might be a shock on the cards at Woodside if Ross Sutherland could maintain this momentum.

There was a momentum shift on 50 minutes, but it was in the hosts’ favour instead when Aberdeenshire centre, Malcolm White finished off a superb try in the corner.

Harrow then did brilliantly to add the extras from the tightest of angles and the hosts had the lead once again.

This try seemed to relight Shire’s attacking firepower and seven minutes later, Keiran Fulton did well to finish in the other corner for his team’s fourth try.

The tough conversion was missed this time round, but it looked as though the hosts could start to regain some control from that point.

Ross Sutherland wouldn’t give in though and Matthew Robinson’s converted try set up a scintillating finish as the sides drew level.

On 74 minutes the visitors had the opportunity to go ahead, but Mann’s penalty kick was just wide and it was Aberdeenshire who sealed the victory when Harrow’s kick sailed through the posts at the death.

The hosts had sealed their promotion to Caley One last week when they defeated Mackie Academy FP, but the withdrawal of their 2nds from Caley Four has proved a slight dampener on their successful season.

It was perhaps important for their confidence that they were able to grind out a win on Saturday, before their National Bowl Semi-final encounter with Dalkeith.

Meanwhile, Ross Sutherland have three games of their season left, but are unlikely to avoid relegation after results elsewhere didn’t go their way. They travel to Highland 2nds next week needing a win.

Aberdeenshire Head Coach, Barny Henderson: “It was good to get the win even if we didn’t perform as well as we can. We were missing a few key players, but we now have three weeks for the guys to recover from any injuries before we go into the semi-final. Its been difficult losing the 2nds team, but the hope is we can rebuild one for next year. I’ve been on the other side of teams pulling out a couple of days before games and we don’t enjoy doing that.”

Aberdeenshire: Stephen, MacLugash, Watson, White, Fulton, Harrow, Morris; Shrewsbury, Mackie, Littlejohn, Watson, S.Lafferty, Penman, Forman, Burton

Replacements: G.Lafferty, Davies, Carr, Dagaga, Falconer, Stuart, El Hidane

Ross Sutherland: Team sheet not available.

 

A Granite Paradise

The sand is warm between your toes as you stroll across a beach sipping a cocktail while lounging around in your swimsuit. The location is undisclosed as the waves lap the shore. You could be in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or somewhere else warm. That doesn’t matter. The sun is shining and you’re at peace with the world.

Suddenly you’re hit by a wave of brain freeze and you return to reality with a bump. You’ve been daydreaming again. You’re clinging to a hot flask of coffee while trying to prevent yourself from shivering. Shivering despite the multiple layers you wrapped around yourself before you set out. The location is a non-descript bus stop on Union Street. Passing buses, cars and smelly dustbin lorries create a deafening cacophony of sound around you. Welcome to Aberdeen.

On a cold, wet November day a bitter northerly wind is often funnelled down Aberdeen’s main drag. A wind which can chill you to the bone and can make you feel instantly ‘jeelt’. As they would say around these parts.

Meanwhile, Councillor Marie Boulton is sitting in her warm office on the second floor of the Town House, watching as people scuttle across the rain-soaked pavements below like woodlice. It’s a Thursday afternoon in December and the Christmas market across the road is struggling to find much trade from potential passing customers. Most people are either at work or are deliberately minimising the time they have to spend outdoors.

This is the Granite City. Not perhaps a name that shouts out attractive architecture, tourism hot spot, or holiday destination central. It is, however, a name which accurately reflects the nature of Aberdeen’s mini skyline of quarried rock clad buildings.

The town house itself is a pretty unremarkable building with its tinted windows and multiple entrances. Entrances which seem to all be out of order. This rather drab sight, however, is offset by the impressive Marischal College building next door with its church spiers towering above the festive display below. The is the second largest granite building in the world and is principally used by the city council.

Councillor Boulton is the cultural spokesperson for the council. She admits Scotland’s third city still lags behind the more popular attractions of Edinburgh and at Loch Ness for example in terms of visitor volume and popularity. Despite this, she remains enthusiastic about the Granite City’s potential as a tourist destination. An almost curbed enthusiasm if you will.

“Before there was this perception that Aberdeen was a grey, cold, only oil related city and I think people almost expected to see an oil rig in the middle of Union Street”, she suggests.

Boulton insists this snap judgement now firmly belongs in the past. She explains that the city council are putting more emphasis on developing the Granite City’s sightseer trade, citing the recent reopening of the popular Art Gallery as part of the council’s “city centre masterplan.”

She explains: “It was a huge investment for the city. We got £10 million from heritage lottery funding and £5 million from the UK treasury to do the memorial hall which is an important part of the art gallery.”

The newly refurbished venue is certainly impressive with its wide range of art and scenic roof top viewing point. The nearby Union Terrace gardens are also being redeveloped and are set to be completed in 2021 to the tune of £25 million. They will join an already plentiful supply of parks and green areas in Aberdeen.

However, the city arguably suffered culturally before and while the art gallery was under wraps, with 2016 city council figures suggesting that only 16% of visitors to venues in the city visited cultural locations. Councillors and locals alike will be hoping that the Schoolhill venue attracts a wider audience to its 15,000 strong collection of decorative art pieces.

This sentiment is echoed in a vast but empty conference room in the Visit Aberdeen offices, a company which promotes tourism in the Granite City and the wider North-East. Their CEO Chris Foy says: “I think it’s the tipping point. I’ve been here for two and a half years and I think when I arrived it was a lot harder to promote Aberdeen as a city destination on its own. The gallery kind off changes everything.”

But how does the gallery compare to the Dundee V&A, for example? An unusual yet impressive piece of architecture which sits proudly on the River Tay. It’s grand opening in September last year was met with much fanfare and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, described its opening as putting “Dundee firmly on the world’s cultural map.”

Foy reckons Aberdeen’s art gallery can compete with the City of Discovery’s offering. “You can compare it to the V&A. A great brand which is getting lots of media attention. But I think the substance that we have in that gallery really makes it stand out and it’s a complete game changer for the city.”

He also zealously describes the action his team is taking to promote the P&J Live arena and newly reopened music hall as venues which have attracted and can attract big names. An obvious example is the BBC Sport personality award which will be hosted by the P&J Live on the 15th December.

Returning to the Town House, and Councillor Boulton explains how a wider audience had attended a recent performance in the city: “I believe out of those who attended the Michael Bublé concert at P&J Live, 60% of the audience were from out with Aberdeen.”

On this basis, it would seem there is an upward trend in visitors coming into the city, though there are those who have concerns this apparent increase in visitor numbers isn’t being felt by other areas of the city. Boulton believes the new harbour being built in Cove Bay to the south of the city will solve this issue.

She expects that cruises will land there, bringing visitors to different areas of Aberdeen and of course the wider North-East with its castles, distilleries and wide-ranging outdoor pursuits. But are other areas other than the city centre itself actually experiencing an upward turn in tourism?

On the other side of the city from Cove Bay is Old Aberdeen. Founded around the time of the 15th century, this area is home to Aberdeen University and the impressive St Machar Cathedral which some locals think isn’t being promoted to visitors to the city enough. The area is busy during university hours but is much more peaceful and quieter than the bustling city centre on the weekends or outside term time.

Several of the full-time residents here meet every month at an open meeting in the Old Town House. This building sits at the end of the cobbled High Street, a narrow road which travels through the university’s picturesque main campus.

Tourism, or an apparent lack of it, is often on the Old Aberdeen Community Council agenda. However, it is discussed a lot less exuberantly around these parts, with a conversation at the last meeting being provoked by complaints that there aren’t enough public convinces in the vicinity for visitors.

Attendees were beginning to make their excuses to leave after an hour of productive proceedings when Dewi Morris mentioned the apparent lack of amenities. Looking over his spectacles the council’s chairman described how, “tourists are directed into the main centre of Aberdeen and that’s it. Our understanding is that even senior people on the council aren’t aware of Old Aberdeen and aren’t aware of the significance of St Machar Cathedral.”

It’s a hurdle which Chris Foy and Visit Aberdeenshire refer to as the “challenge of the final mile”, but the community group have other concerns as well. Wider concerns.

Some members aren’t impressed by the amount of attention to detail or funding that has gone into encouraging tourism in the city as a whole. Trevor, an older man who has sat quietly during the previous proceedings suddenly pipes up: “I don’t think our council have done a good enough job over the years of helping that (tourism). They’ve got lazy because the oil industry has been here and the city has, in some ways, made its money too easily.”

It’s a scathing remark and one which is met with no vocal dispute from around the table. The attendees seemingly share a displeasure at the council’s attempts to try and attract tourists to visit this historic part of the Granite City. In the less official surroundings of the Old Town House, the insistence of others that tourism is at the top of the city council’s priorities is being undermined somewhat.

Chairman Dewi, thinks the city council should walk a mile in their shoes: “Tourists are directed into the centre of Aberdeen and our understanding is that senior council members aren’t really aware of the significance of Old Aberdeen and St Machar Cathedral. We want visitors to the city to be able to stop here.”

It is clear that if Visit Scotland and the city council want to entice tourists into the Granite City there is no time to rest on their laurels. Despite the exciting prospects new and improved attractions like the art gallery, music hall and P&J Live arena will bring to Aberdeen, it has a long way to go.

Back amongst the bendy buses on Union Street, and it may be hard to see Aberdeen’s appeal as the cold tickles your bones. It may not be the Caribbean or the Mediterranean and a stroll by the beach barefoot is likely to be a bracing affair at the least, but Aberdeen might just be growing in its appeal. The critical hurdle to overcome is encouraging tourists to stop here and give this potential granite paradise a second glance.

Caledonia One: Ellon beat battling Wanderers in enthralling encounter

Ellon  38(24) 

Aberdeen Wanderers  31(12) 

Ellon now sit second in the league table after an entertaining bonus point victory against a resilent Aberdeen Wanderers side.

The sides shared ten tries between them as Wanderers fought their way back into a game which the hosts looked to have tied up by the 50th minute after James Hainshaw crossed for their fifth try.

That score had made it 38-12, though within 20 minutes the visitors were back in the fight, assisted by two Scott Byers tries in quick succession.

Scores both sides of half-time prove crucial

Ellon were first to break the deadlock through a straightforward Caleb Jack penalty, but this was quickly followed by a Fraser Christie try which gave Wanderers the lead.

The centre latched onto an Ed Vickers pass at an angle and with pace to score beneath the posts.

The lead then swapped hands twice before the Meadows outfit started to pull away towards the end of the first half.

First Fraser Chalk crossed the whitewash, but this was cancelled out by a Sammy Alkhalof score in the corner.

However, it wasn’t long until Ellon regained the lead in style when Douglas Sharp picked a hole in a disorganised Wanderers defence to cross the whitewash. Jack doing well to add the extras from a tight angle.

Bradley Fraser then added another for the hosts, scoring off the back of a scrum to give Ellon a 24-12 lead at half-time.

Indeed, the Maroons and Golds also started the second half strongly when Angus Craig crossed to increase their lead after a fine piece of interplay with Mark Galloway.

The second rower made a powerful run through a disorganised Wanderers defence to score and Hainshaw’s try followed soon after from the back of another strong scrummage.

This would, however, be the last time Ellon found the try line as Wanderers regained some much-needed confidence when captain Carwyn Walker crossed after the hosts’ Douglas Sharp was sent to the bin.

It was then Byers who skilfully kicked through and gathered his own kick to score in the corner, before scoring an almost identical try minutes later to take his side to within seven points of the hosts.

This set up an exciting last ten minutes, but Ellon held their nerve to win a match which provided the gathering of supporters with plenty of entertainment on a windswept day at the Meadows.

This victory meant they overtook Dunfermline after the Fifers were defeated by runaway leaders, Orkney. The arduous journey to relegation strugglers Alloa is next up for the Maroons and Golds who will look to build on this performance.

Meanwhile, Wanderers managed to gain two bonus points from an encouraging display and will be confident they can bounce back against Glenrothes next week.

Ellon Head Coach, Craig Parslow: 

“We put a very young team out and at one point our back line was basically made up of 17-year-olds. It was a gutsy performance against a big outfit, but we did slack of slightly towards the end of the second half. We were a little naïve at times, but I’m really pleased with how the guys have been performing.”

Aberdeen Wanderers Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur: 

“We paid for that fallow period after half time, but I thought we played well in the opening stages. You can’t deny that comeback and I said during the week that Ellon would be a really tough place to travel to. I thought it was a spirited performance from the guys.”

Ellon: Shirron, Notton, Jack, Campbell, Chalk, Gray, Hamilton; Whyte, O’Brien, Galloway, Craig, Hainshaw, Brown, Rodger, Fraser

Replacements; Sharp, Aitken, Bridgeford, Fitzgerald

Aberdeen Wanderers: Webster, Alkhalaf, Christie, Scott, Buyers, Vickers, Fox; Barnes, Alexander, Strachan, Coull, Lawson, Liddle, Smith, Walker (c)

Replacements: Parkes, Knight, Dugan, Smith

Yellow Card: Douglas Sharp (Ellon)

Caledonia One: Aberdeen Wanderers 29-5 Blairgowrie

Aberdeen Wanderers 29 (15)

Blairgowrie 5(0)

Aberdeen Wanderers brushed past Blairgowrie as blustery conditions and a heavy Groats Road pitch made the going tough for both sides. 

The hosts’ stand-off, Ed Vickers, scored 14  points, adding a fine try to three conversions and a penalty.

Ewan Smith, Mitchell Scott and Carwyn Walker also crossed the whitewash as Wanderers continued their good recent form with a bonus point win.

Blairgowrie responded through centre, Matthew Mitchie late on, but offered little attacking threat despite frustrating their opposition with some strong defence.

Wanderers make a winning return after a month on the sidelines

 

This was Wanderers first game since the 27th January due to weather related cancellations, but the Hazelhead outfit started brightly and Ed Vickers converted an easy penalty to give his side an early lead.

This was followed up by a Ewan Smith try on five minutes as the left-winger finished off a simple move from a strong Wanderers scrum.

Indeed, the hosts’ scrummage reigned dominant throughout the 80 minutes in a game where the set piece became crucial as the ball began to resemble a bar of soap in the Hazelhead mud.

Some fine interplay between Vickers and Mitchell Scott then sent the inside centre on his way as Wands looked to be on their way to a convincing victory.

From there it became rather quiet though as the home side struggled to break down Blairgowrie’s defence with a chance going a begging on 33 minutes when Vickers missed touch with his penalty as the wind swirled around Groats Road.

It wasn’t until the hour mark that the dead lock was broken after a multitude of scrums and chances missed through handling errors which were forgivable in the tough conditions.

Carwyn Walker and Gabe Liddle both put in impressive shifts in the back row and it was Walker who grabbed Wanderers third after another solid scrum.

The hosts’ bonus point looked imminent, but Blairs defence held solid until the 69th minute when Vickers added his side’s all important fourth try with a fine piece for running rugby before adding his third conversion.

In the dying moments of the game Blairgowrie were awarded for their efforts in defence with a try at the other end.

Matthew Mitchie found a way through after some sustained pressure in opposition territory to give his side something to travel home with.

Meanwhile, for Wanderers this win puts them in contention for third place and they travel to Ellon – who currently occupy that position – next weekend.

Aberdeen Wanderers Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur: “We had real problems finding players to play in the back line and made it more difficult for ourselves as we found it difficult to get the ball out wide. Full credit should go to a strong Blairgowrie defence who we often found hard to break down. I was really impressed by David Knights who has made the step up from playing in the back row for the Under 18s to starting on the wing today.”+

 

 

.+303++02

French Flair, Irish Intelligence and Scotland’s Silly Errors

This weekend was always going to be just that little better than usual as the crème la crème of sporting events got underway in Cardiff.

I speak not of the Super Bowl in Miami, but instead of the Northern Hemisphere’s rugby showpiece where long-time supporters and long-suffering girlfriends (or boyfriends) alike were treated to two days of sporting festivities to rival Christmas.

Three encounters in three European cites each earned their place on a rugby-esque Richter scale from a small tremor on Saturday afternoon to a rather more ground shaking affair the next day in Paris.

Wales 42-0 Italy: Wayne’s Wales get off to the best possible start:

The Principality in Cardiff was treated to five Welsh tries in a dominant if slightly routine victory for Wayne Pivac’s men against an Italian side which lacked cohesion and structure.

The Azzuri travel home with no points registered and a Six Nations losing streak which has now stretched to 23 games as the Six Nations opener proved a barely competitive match up.

This year’s meeting between the two sides included open rugby but was turgid in its outcome, albeit the hosts struggled to add their much-needed bonus point after having a George North try chalked off by the TMO in the final quarter of the match.

North was eventually able to add the all-important fourth try as he powered over from close range with the assistance of an Alun Wyn Jones push. The battle bruised 34-year-old leading his side from the front with endless energy once again.

This was followed by a Josh Adams score at the death to take the hosts over the 40-point mark which completed the 24-year-old’s hat trick. The World Cup’s highest try scorer (seven) once again proved a vital finisher as he crossed the whitewash twice in the first half to give his side a commanding lead.

Adams’ second on the half hour mark was noticeable for Dan Biggar’s majestic pass through his legs to the winger who finished the move from close quarters to give the hosts a 21-0 lead at the interval.

There were other stand-out performances within the hosts’ ranks, including that of man of the match, Justin Tipuric who worked tirelessly in the Back Row with the ever-present Aaron Wainwright and the returning Taulupe Faletau.

Tomos Williams also put his hand up for selection in Dublin next week after a fine performance at scrum half.

Meanwhile, Franco Smith’s Italy aren’t likely to find a trip to Paris any easier as they look to brush themselves off.

They will need key players such as Tommaso Allan and Jake Polledri to be at their best if they are able to prove more challenging opponents to the French on Sunday.

 

Ireland 19-12 Scotland: Similar Shortcomings for Scotland as Ireland hold firm in Dublin:

Despite the pressure being heaped on Gregor Townsend and his charges, there was little expectation that Scotland would leave the Aviva Stadium with a result.

And unfortunately, but perhaps predictably for travelling fans, this hunch proved true as a strong Irish defensive performance made Scotland pay for a catalogue of missed chances and errors.

Errors which have so often put pay to the plentiful desire and skill which Gregor Townsend’s men have offered in the past and offered again in Dublin.

The Scots showed desire in bucket loads as they looked to banish the nightmare start to last year’s World Cup which had ended in an embarrassing loss to the Irish.

Townsend made ten changes from November’s loss to Japan and his much-changed side played with plenty of flair and passion, but failed to convert chances into tries.

Punters will point to a Stuart Hogg clanger as the clear and obvious error and one that could have proved a gamechanger.

In truth Hogg’s mistake was rugby’s equivalent of an open goal as the captain dropped the ball over the line after a catalogue of hard, reward less work from his forwards who were impressive throughout.

But a measured approach to this rare error from the full-back is to consider it as one of countless Scots try scoring opportunities throughout.

Eleven times the Scots entered the Irish 22 without scoring and that will worry Gregor Townsend. Perhaps this had something to do with the absence of Finn Russell. We’ll never know.

In fairness his replacement, Adam Hastings, strung a solid if not overly impressive performance together at stand-off, but maybe just maybe, Scotland needed Russell’s unyielding tenacity to unlock a prolonged and tireless Irish defensive effort.

To give them their due, Ireland defended with brutal aggression and controlled the game well, Sexton’s clinical first half finish proving crucial in an enthralling affair at the Aviva Stadium.

It was of course unfortunate that the promising prospect, Caelan Doris was forced with injury early on, but his replacement wasn’t too shabby in the form of Peter O’Mahony. A player who was at his impenetrable and streetwise best for the hosts.

His team’s opposition could have learned a thing or two from his intelligent manipulation of referees at the breakdown where a long absent Rory Sutherland and debutant Nick Haining impressed amongst Townsend’s charges.

Ireland will host Wales in a battle of the best defences while Scotland will need to work on their streetwise factor when they host England on Saturday.

 

France 24-17 England: French flair overwhelms Eddie’s England:

Even after crossing the English Channel, Eddie Jones’ England looked lost at sea for large parts of their championship opener in Paris.

Le Crunch is always an event not to be missed and its inclusion in the opening round this year added an extra dimension to an already mouth-watering match-up.

England have enjoyed an illustrious five years under Jones. Two Six Nations titles have spent time in Twickenham’s trophy cabinet and three months ago Jones’ men were 80 minutes away from winning a second World Cup.

Cheslin Kolbe’s scintillating footwork and a South African team full of passion to the brim stopped prevented a second Webb Ellis trophy from returning to West London, but England had received many a coin for some absorbing performances in Japan.

These included a rarely witnessed performance of the utmost dominance against New Zealand after France had travelled home after a calamitous second half display against Wales in the Quarter-Finals.

And yet France were expected to prove tough opposition to a more experienced, more successful, but perhaps more predictable English side.

That being said, no one surely expected the 80 minutes which followed Nigel Owens’ first blow of the whistle in a cauldron like Stade de France which never quietened.

Vincent Rattez kick started the onslaught, taking an intelligent inside pass from Romain Ntamack to cross from close quarters on five minutes. A Manu Tuilagi injury did little to help in the aftermath of this opening, as his team mates’ white shirts became splattered with blood and mud in the light drizzle.

Then on 19 minutes Charles Ollivon took advantage of a moment of English confusion and crossed for their second. Jonny May et al thought the 26-year-old captain had knocked on in the build-up to the try and stopped in their tracks.

His team looked shell shocked, distraught and lost amongst the cacophony of sound provided by French supporters starved off success and the changing rooms couldn’t come quick enough for their visitors who found themselves 17-0 down at the break.

This was most unexpected from a French side which were significant in their youth and dominance in recent under 20 world championships. Led by a captain who had never previously started in a Six Nations match and with a commanding lead this was quickly becoming their game to lose.

However, the hosts’ collapse against Wales in similar conditions in last year’s opener will have been playing on the more conservative of French supporters’ minds. Last year they had been leading 16-0 at half time. The final score? A Welsh win by 21-16. They were far from winning it yet.

After an improved England were able to finally throw some punches, the visitors soon found their nightmare becoming worse. A strong French lineout was followed up by direct running from the ever-present Antoine Dupont who set up Ollivon for his second to give France a 24-0 lead after the conversion with 25 minutes remaining.

Surely, they had won it now and would settle to hold their opponents to nul points? That of course isn’t the French way and in all fairness to England they regained some of their shape at scrum time which improved tenfold after the inclusion of replacements like Ellis Genge.

Then Jonny May scored two ingenious tries, the winger creating nothing from something on both occasions, dragging his comrades to almost within striking distance of the French in just eight minutes.

For the first May somehow weaved his way between countless French defenders with the use of his boot after performing an outrageous chip and chase in the little room he had to play with on the right wing.

The second was almost equally as impressive as the 29-year-old ripped the French defence to shreds, using his lightening pace to gas Virimi Vakatawa from a similar position. The visitors had brought it back to 24-14 with 15 minutes remaining. Was another epic comeback on the cards at an increasingly nervous Stade de France?

Despite this the hosts’ defence remained resolute against stout English attack and the world cup runners up were unable to come away with anything more than an injury time penalty. The visitors claimed a losing bonus point through the boot of Owen Farrell who had spent the previous 80 minutes looking slightly off colour.

One round in and all bets are off already. Although, French odds will surely be higher in a Six Nations in which they could finally prove their potential is worth something more than a bottom half finish and will be big favourites to beat Italy on Sunday. The task is more stark for their English counterparts who travel to Scotland far from assured of a win.

Six Nations 2020 Preview: Ireland

When wandering down some of Dublin’s busiest streets its difficult to ignore the countless electoral posters which line the streets in their hundreds. Each one stars a TD or party leader front and centre. The subject of the personal political campaigns either smiling wryly or poising in an authoritative stance in order to gain voter trust.

Even when travelling out of the city, main roads and even country lanes are peppered with the same posters, battling each other for space on muddy verges. When passing through Ireland’s countryside around three weeks before the country goes to the polls, they are difficult to make out on a cold, misty January day. Election day is pencilled in for the 8th February as the current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, faces a battle to retain his position in the Irish Parliament. On that same afternoon 23 of his country’s best rugby players will also face a battle in Dublin against Wales. Their victory is no more assured than Varadkar’s position as they welcome the Grand Slam champions to Dublin.

Lets park comparisons between politics and sport for now though, and consider the difficult selection that Andy Farrell had to make when he was deciding who would be wearing green this Spring. On the 15th January the former dual-coder, announced his 35-man squad and selected the experienced Jonny Sexton to be at the helm.

The group selected includes five uncapped players with the most eye-catching of these arguably being the English born Billy Burns. The fly-half struggled for game time at Gloucester after the Cherry and Whites signed Danny Cipriani in 2018. A fresh start proved appealing for Burns and he discovered this across the Irish Sea, finding an impressive patch of form at Ulster.

The Bathonian now has the chance to participate on the international stage, a goal he would have been unlikely to have fulfilled in the current English side. We could perhaps expect the 25-year-old to make an appearance of the bench when Italy come a calling in the fourth round. Unless the much-trusted war horse of Sexton has a nightmare, it’s unlikely he will find himself at Number 10 this time around and will more realistically be trying to wrestle the Number 21 jersey off Ross Byrne.

At 34-years-old and with 88 caps to his name, it will be interesting to see how Sexton handles the added burden of carrying the captain’s armband. With a solid record from the boot, there has been discussion surrounding an apparent drop in form in recent performances from the Leinster man, but much of this looks to have been exaggerated and perhaps, unjustified.

After all, 2018’s world player of the year has on countless occasions led from the front at regional level and on the international stage. His cold and calculated 83rd minute drop-goal after 41 phases against France not only left the Stade de France in a state of shock, but also kept Ireland in the running for the Grand Slam which they then delivered.

That year proved to be an historic one for the men in green as they followed a Grand Slam with a series victory in Australia, before triumphing against New Zealand for the first time on home soil. After a painful history of being knocked out of world cups with a whimper, it looked as though the Irish had finally peaked at the right time to make an impact at last year’s tournament.

Unfortunately for those watching on the Emerald Isle, this hope failed to materialise into clear cut success when Japan 2019 came calling. A less encouraging, but not dreadful Six Nations Campaign was followed by a hammering at the hands of a rampant New Zealand side in the Quarter Finals. This followed some unconvincing performances at the group stage after defeating a truly terrible Scotland side and doing what they had to against Russia and Samoa. Indeed, it was Sexton who experienced a galling debut as captain as his side went down 19-12 to Japan in Yokohama after looking like they would ruin the hosts’ party early on, before squandering a 12-point lead.

Andy Farrell will take on Joe Schmidt’s gauntlet with this recent drop in form in mind, but also with a clear focus on finding success in his step up from assistant to head honcho. His team selection certainly combines exciting and younger talent with some players from the old guard remaining central to his plans.

Farrell’s starting XV for the opener against Scotland encompasses debutant Caelan Doris who has shown his worth at Leinster and the uncapped Ronan Kelleher on the bench. Experienced faces such as Cian Healy, Ian Henderson and CJ Stander are also selected in the forwards as Ireland look to dominate their Celtic brethren up front, with Tag Furlong being an unstoppable force in the front row.

Meanwhile, the resurgent John Cooney will be disappointed to not be starting but is assured of replacing the weathered Conor Murray at some point during those first 80 minutes. With Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose sitting outside Sexton and Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway on the wings, the hosts have no shortage in attacking firepower. They will also look to give the ever dangerous Jordan Lamour a lease of life at full back and it will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old deals with any attack Scotland can muster.

Ireland Vs Scotland – Saturday 1st February @16:45:

It is difficult to see Ireland losing this affair at the Aviva Stadium and there is likely to have been some quiet relief when it was announced they would be facing the Scots first up at home. The omission of two of their opposition’s most influential players, Finn Russell and Darcy Graham, will also give Ireland more confidence that they can come up trumps from this affair.

It has been ten years since Dan Parks proved the unlikely hero as he prevented an Irish Triple Crown at Croke Park with a late penalty to win the game 23-20 in Scotland’s favour. Since then however, Ireland have only lost three times (two in the Six Nations) in this fixture. They were dominant against their woeful World Cup opponents in September and have often left their plucky visitors bruised and battered in competitive, but controlled performances in Dublin.

A bonus point victory wouldn’t be an unrealistic target for the men in green, but they may face some battle from a Scotland side who will either fly or freeze after having to deal with a less than ideal preparation in the run up to this game. Ireland will likely push on and find gaps through brute force and skill. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ireland gain a bonus point victory. My prediction – Ireland by 15.

Ireland Vs Wales – Saturday 8th February @14:15:

This clash of Celtic giants has so often proved to be an entertaining affair and in honesty, the game I most look forward to viewing as a neutral. Always competitive and usually played between two sides contesting the Six Nations title and is very rarely not an enthralling contest. Ireland have claimed 13 of these 22 encounters since the inaugural Six Nations championship in 2000.

In last year’s edition, Gareth Anscombe kicked his Irish counterparts to death in the final round. But the games of recent times are more commonly open-ended affairs. During Ireland’s title run in 2018, an entertaining match ended 37-27 in their favour as Stockdale made a crucial interception to prevent a late Welsh attacking threat to score at the other end.

Indeed, the last time Wales found any gold at the end of the Aviva Stadium rainbow was in 2012 when they triumphed 23-21 over an Irish squad that won only two in that year’s championship. However, this year’s showdown presents another intriguing battle between two teams with new coaches at the helm in the form of Farrell and Wayne Pivac respectively.

Both sides are expected to win their opening ties which will perhaps provide them both with some more confidence if there was any in short supply before this match. Expect another open match with lots of running rugby and a great atmosphere to match the occasion. My prediction – Ireland by less than five.

England Vs Ireland – Sunday 23rd February @15:00:
The radio crackled as my father carefully navigated his way over the treacherous Cairn O’Mount in thick mist on the 24th February 2007. We were travelling home from Murrayfield after witnessing a thoroughly depressing Scottish performance as the hosts were resoundingly beaten 37-17 at the hands of Italy.

Suddenly the sombre mood in the car was lightened by the pure enthusiasm and excitement radiating from the Irish commentators on the radio as Issac Boss ran in Ireland’s fourth try in their 43-13 demolishment of England at Croke Park. It was rare to see an Irish side pile that many points on England, though the roles were well and truly reversed at Twickenham last year.

In that last meeting between the two sides, the English ran out 57-15 winners in a nightmarish world cup warm-up match. This followed a 32-20 English victory at the Aviva Stadium as the visitors overwhelmed their hosts in the first half with a barrage of attacking play. However, when these sides last met at Twickenham, Ireland were runway victors as they completed their Grand Slam campaign.

These occasions in themselves are clear examples of how volatile and unpredictable these match ups are, and I would suggest this year’s encounter will be no different. However, I have a feeling a confident England will dominate this encounter and will feed of Ireland’s failure to a get a grasp hold in the last two meetings between the sides. My prediction – England by 15.
Ireland Vs Italy – Saturday 7th March @14:15:

If you briefly delve into recent records of this fixture you will see a clear indication that the Italians have struggled against Irish opposition since their participation in the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest competition began. On six occasions the men from the Emerald Isle have scored a half century of points against the Azzurri and are known for giving the Italians a bit of a beating in Dublin’s fair city.

In 2018 it ended 29-10 in Ireland’s favour, while in 2016 Ireland were able to put 58 points on their Italian opposition. Sandwiched between these two fixtures was a resounding 63-10 win for the Irish at the Stadio Olimpico in 2017 and Ireland’s only defeat came in the shape of a 22-15 reverse in 2013.

In recent years this seems to have become a fixture which Ireland enjoy playing in and if their tournament hasn’t been going quite like they would have wanted it to, Andy Farrell and his men aren’t likely to take any prisoners against the Italians and a bonus point victory is likely to be in the offing. However, be prepared to see some changes come into force as the Head Coach may choose to rest some of his players for the Super Saturday showdown in Paris. My prediction – Ireland by 40.

France Vs Ireland – Saturday 14th March @20:00:

For Ireland’s final match of the campaign they travel to Paris, a city which used to be a huge thorn in their side but one that has proved a less intimidating place for them to travel to in recent years. Between 2003-2008 the Irish had to settle for a Triple Crown as they failed to overcome the French and even went 13 years without a win at the Stade de France between 2000-2014.

But now the tide has seemingly turned, and it is Les Bleus who find themselves without a triumph against their Irish rivals, their last one coming in the shape of a 10-9 victory four years ago. They have of course come close with the pre-mentioned Sexton drop goal raining on their parade in 2018’s championship. Ireland will however, carry the confidence of a convincing 26-14 triumph last year.

However, with this in mind they will perhaps find the going more difficult this time round against a French side with some exciting young talent which might just grow into the tournament as it goes on. With a finishing position in the championship in the balance, my gut says France will edge this one and recapture some of the stonewall confidence which they used to have when playing in this fixture.
My prediction – France by 5.

My Prediction for Ireland – 3rd place with 15 points