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GUINNESS SIX NATIONS 2021 PREDICTIONS

Hello there, you gorgeous people. Just when you thought lockdown couldn’t get any worse, here I am with another rugby nause predictions blog. At the time of writing (25th Jan), the Guinness Six Nations are due to go ahead as planned, so until the rugby world implodes I will write as if it plans to keep on spinning.

After last year’s effort saw me only predict Italy correctly (give the man a medal), I seriously upped my game for the Autumn Nations Cup towards the tail end of 2020 with 8/8 placed correctly. I’m hoping to keep this rich form going, and after my partner pointed out my recent blog was in fact longer than her dissertation proposal, I’m aiming to do it in significantly fewer words. So take your banana loaf out the oven, say yes to the second bottle of gin and enjoy me making a fool of myself nearly a year on from my first predictions outing.

Here are my 2021 Six Nations predictions:

Serving as my only correct prediction from last year, it almost seems redundant calling Italy’s finish in the tournament nowadays. It has been years since they won a tournament fixture and I don’t see this year being any different. However, their team is better than I and many others gave it credit for in an international context.

While they remain the Six Nations’ whipping boy, the one off Nations Cup tournament in November exposed the disparity between the quality of the European tier 1 nations and their most successful tier 2 counterpart, Georgia. While the teams did not face each other directly, there was plenty of evidence to show that Italy are still an elite level rugby nation, just not in comparison to the giants they frequently share the field with. With a solid front row, Jake Polledri bullying defences and the control of Garbisi and Allan in the back line, Italy have a foundation to build a strong team in the near future. In the meantime, I don’t think anyone is predicting anything but a wooden spoon performance this time.

I’ll try not to make this list a ‘pick where they finished last year’ event, but this is a scenario I struggle to look past. Wales are not in good shape and have shown little sign of improvement over the last year.

Wayne Pivac has had the misfortune of inheriting an ageing core of significant players without a plethora of young stars knocking down the door to replace them. He cannot be blamed for this, however the squad difficulties seem to be accompanied by a lack of tactical dynamism that has rendered the outfit fairly uncompetitive against top sides over the last year, particularly in the late stages of 2020. The return to fitness of players like Ken Owens and Jonathan Davies will always boost the squad, with the likes of Nick Tompkins and Louis Rees-Zammit also beginning to step up and spearhead the new era Pivac is trying to usher in. Nevertheless, I don’t believe significantly better than the likes of Ireland or Scotland, and without the tactical pragmatism of Gatland to get the most out of them I can’t see them having a strong outing.

I’m not sold on Ireland under Andy Farrell. They haven’t been bad, in fact they’ve looked very competent for the most part and brilliant in flashes during his short tenure. However, I have seen little evidence to suggest they remain a team who can regularly compete for Six Nations titles, as we have come to expect of them over the last decade.

The Schmidt era of Irish rugby was defined by abrasive physicality and meticulous tactical game management; a simple system which he took a scalpel to over and over to find a perfect formula the players all knew inside out and were able to implement against all manner of opposition (including two victories over New Zealand). Much of this successful team makes up the current Ireland squad, but what made it possible was the world-class brilliance of its halfbacks, Connor Murray and Johnny Sexton. Neither player is near the level they were when dismantling the All Blacks, and this decline is illustrated plainly in their lack of direction in tough games over the last year.

Furthermore, the games against England last year showed that they have the potential to get bullied by aggressive packs, and this weakness will need addressing if they are to regain their footing at near the top of elite international rugby. Their back row remains strong and the likes of Iain Henderson returning should help bolster their engine room in tough fixtures. They could easily finish higher, but I’ve got a feeling they’ll perform slightly below what is expected.

Aye, it’s the first dodgy pick alert. I will be totally unsurprised if Scotland finish lower than this, but I’ve got an inkling they might prove to be somewhat of a wildcard. Gregor Townsend’s tenure has been successful overall, yet the side strangely seem to over and underachieve simultaneously each year.

On their day, they have shown they have the talent and flair to skittle anyone. They humbled England in Murrayfield before holding them to a scintillating draw at Twickenham the following year; France would currently be Grand Slam champions without their big upset, and victories over Wales have punctuated a period of memorable games for the side. However, for all these victories they have not had a realistic crack at the title in this time, and while they have pulled off some shocks they have often failed to win key games that could have compounded their success.

While I don’t necessarily see this as the year they break free and challenge for the title, I think they are poised to establish themselves as an elite force in the tournament. The outstanding ability of their back line finally seems to be mirrored in their forward pack; Rory Sutherland has been a revelation at loose head, the Fagerson brothers bring powerful carrying into the mix and the line out menace of Richie Gray returns to accompany his workhorse brother Jonny in the engine room. It’s a pack that finally looks like it could provide the service required to set the likes of Finn Russell, Cam Redpath and Stuart Hogg alight. Watch out for the Scots this year, there might be something brewing.

My top two have swapped so many times that I almost had to flip a coin to decide, and even then I’ll just change it again.

England were the best international team that played in 2020, winning the Six Nations and the Nations Cup with relative confidence (save a nail biting finish against France in November). Following a slow start, they kicked on to develop a less attractive but flawlessly effective system of physicality and tactical kicking that saw them overwhelm most teams. The experience of Ford, Farrell and Youngs guided the midfield whilst the ferocity of Itoje, Underhill and Vunipola dominated the battles up front in nearly every game. So why aren’t I predicting them to win?

For all England’s power and kicking accuracy, I worry that they lack dynamism in open play. Good rugby teams are built on solid fundamentals of the game, the 85%; the defence, kicking, fitness and set piece. Great rugby teams have that 85%, then add to it with small percentages that take them from competent to outstanding. England may have the best foundations in the world right now, but are slightly deficient in those pieces of electricity and magic that would make them a truly world class team.

Regardless, they are still one of the best teams in the world and could very easily prove me wrong by retaining the title. But if we are looking at that 1% or 2% extra magic on top of great foundations, then look no further than my top pick.

My prediction of France to win the title last year was one of risk and optimism based on a lot of unknown variables I thought might come together successfully in a short space of time. While they just missed out, it was a closely fought race that they will feel unlucky to have come second in. This year, the prediction is made with significantly more confidence.

France are a superb outfit quickly on their way to becoming potential world beaters. Enough has been said about the abilities of Antoine Dupont (in my opinion the best player in the world) and his halfback partner Romain Ntamack that I won’t go too deeply into it. Even with the latter missing the first couple of rounds with a broken jaw, Matthieu Jalibert is an outstanding deputy and the team will benefit from a fresh Ntamack later in the tournament. Outside of this heralded pair, you have an underrated second row of Willemsen and Le Roux, classy loose forwards Ollivon and Aldritt, on top of back line operators like Bouthier and Thomas, not even mentioning the terrifying threat of Vakatawa.

It is a team brimming with star quality, coupled with a rock solid defence engineered by Shaun Edwards and a fitness not often witnessed by French teams in the past. If this team comes close to reaching their potential, I see them being a dominant force in international rugby for years to come. They are my pick for the 2021 Six Nations Champions.

Final table:
1. France
2. England
3. Scotland
4. Ireland
5. Wales
6. Italy

And that’s it! I hope those who are still reading this enjoyed themselves, if you disagree feel free to let me know your thoughts. I’ll be back with another blog on Friday featuring my ones to watch XV. Until then, stay safe out there everyone!

Charlie

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How Playing Video Games Can Help You On the Pitch

If your childhood was anything like mine you might have put thousands of hours into your Playstation, X-Box or PC playing some of the most popular releases over the last decade being told by your family and other half that you’re wasting your time. However, did you know that all those hours you have banked can actually lead to an improved performance in sport? Of course you did…

According to a study published in the journal Communication Research, playing just 20 minutes of video games can allegedly improve your hand-eye coordination. That’s right, Researches had 151 colleague students spend 20 minutes playing video games and 99 percent more were able to utilise the skills boost they obtained from gameplay helped them in a subsequent lab controlled hand-eye coordination test.

Further research has continued to prove that there are various benefits to playing video games. These include cognitive benefits, such as improved reaction time, improved mental flexibility, and improved spatial abilities, as well as other types of benefits, such as reduced stress levels, increased self-esteem, and increased prosocial behaviour.

First, let’s consider the cognitive benefits:

  1. It is believed that video games can improve your recognition ability and special memory. They can improve your reaction time, without decreasing accuracy.
  2. Playing first-person shooters can improve your mental flexibility which will make you better at adapting to change.
  3. Games can also improve your visual processing ability which can make you better at identifying important information and ignoring irrelevant distractions.

Now let’s consider the general benefits of playing video games:

  1. Nervous about an upcoming match or can’t find a way to wind down after a training session? Playing video games can help you relax and reduce your stress levels.
  2. They can also increase your self-esteem and improve your mood. Plus the more competent you feel at the game, the more you’ll benefit in this regard. This is a great way to give yourself a quick confidence boost.
  3. Playing video games that involve cooperating with other players can increase people’s prosocial behaviour in real life. So, if you like to play PlayerUnknown’s Battleground or Fortnite with your friends then you’ll be able to develop your communication skills that you can use on the pitch and improve interpersonal relationships with your teammates.
  4. A lot of us suffer with anxiety be it on or off the pitch and there’s no shame in that. If this affects you it’s time to smile as it is widely believed that playing therapeutic video games can improve mental-health outcomes in various ways by engaging your brain in relaxing tasks to help you overcome feelings of unease. Such games as The Sims 4 or Animal Crossing would be perfect for this.
  5. Lastly, playing certain video games can improve physical-health outcomes in various ways, such as by encouraging people to exercise or by educating people about health-related topics. So, if you can’t make it to training or don’t have time to go for that mid-week gym session, try your hand at such physical games as Just Dance or my personal favourite, Beat Sabre. Both of these games are great at getting you to move and help work off those pesky carbs.

There you have it. A brief look at how playing video games can help you on the Rugby pitch. Before I go, please note that gaming is no real replacement for actual exercise. You’ll still need to make an effort to attend as many training sessions and take part in additional physical exercise (whatever form that may take is down to you). So be smart, play safe… and most importantly, enjoy yourself.

And now a warning…

Please take the information you read here today as alleged and shouldn’t be taken strictly as fact. Sure, it may win you some extra few minutes on the console in an argument with your better half but please remember that playing video games uninterrupted for long periods of time can lead to many hours lost, late nights, eye strain and arguments. So, just like any form of exercise, take it easy, have fun and if you ever feel uncomfortable doing it, take a break and get plenty of sleep. Oh, and stay hydrated too!

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Sheffield Vulcans Recommend: Pre-Training Meals

As Sheffield’s first LGBTQ inclusive Rugby team we pride ourselves on being a squad made up of athletes who come from a wide range of ability, fitness and experience. Always looking for ways to improve our performance our team of coaches heartily encourage our members to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

However, in today’s new world forged by Covid-19, it is often difficult to keep on the straight and narrow when it comes to nutrition. Sure, lockdown rules have been relaxed and we can do as much exercise as we want out doors but it also means that temptation of grabbing something quick and easy is even more present now the golden arches have opened their drive through and delivery services.

We’re not worried too much though because tonight marks the restart of our training sessions. That’s right, keeping in-line with the recommended government guidelines our team has been split into squads of six who will work together to complete HIIT sessions developed to help improve our fitness during pre-season ready for when the season begins (whenever that may be).

With training starting again the team have been thinking about how we each treat our bodies. We’ve already been encouraging one another to remain active during lockdown thanks to our weekly Strava challenge but it’s just as important to take note of our nutrition as well. Good nutrition is vital for exercise and performance and can help recover faster after each workout. It’s equally as important to think about the timing of your pre-workout meal too. That’s why it comes highly recommended to try and eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat at least 2 hours before you exercise as this will help prevent any stomach discomfort during exercise.

Ahead of tonight’s training we turned to our committee to see what their go to pre-training meal and here is are a few of their recommendations:

If your training starts within 3 hours:

Our club President Michael Hudson recommends something quick and easy to prepare. That’s why he swears by enjoying a meal of chicken and rice/pasta a few hours before training. Protein, carbs… simple!

As an alternative suggestion, our very own Matt Clark recommends fajitas made with lean protein, brown rice and roasted vegetables.

If your training starts within 2 hours:

Our Social Secretary Tibble Smith knows how to keep it light and recommends enjoying some toast with butter (and jam if he’s feeling a little naughty).

As an alternative suggestion, you could enjoy a bowl of whole-grain cereal and milk.

If training starts within an hour:

Our club Chair Glenn Allen and our very own Jude Berry recommend enjoying a piece of fruit, such as a banana or an apple.

As an alternative suggestion you could enjoy a nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients.

That concludes our recommendations for pre-training fuel and we hope you found it useful. Remember at the end of the day improving your pre-training nutrition can go a long way in helping you perform better and recover faster as an athlete. But before you go, remember that your body also needs water to function so it is important that you maintain good hydration habits as well.

Thanks for reading.

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Hadrian’s Cup 2019

Sheffield Vulcans took part in our first ever Hadrian’s Cup, a 10s tournament organised by our IGR brothers the Newcastle Ravens.

The Vulcans travelled to the North East and enjoyed several games which included a win against Bristol Bisons before being knocked out of the running for the Hadrian’s Plate by the Birmingham Bulls.

Take a look at some of the thoughts and feedback from our players:

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March Training Dates

Come down to Endcliffe Park at 7pm to join in Sheffield’s ONLY inclusive rugby club. 

Regardless of age, size, orientation or rugby experience, the Vulcans invite everyone to give Rugby a ‘try’.

Get in touch, come to training, and get your first 4 sessions for FREE!

For more information contact us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email committee@sheffieldvulcans.com

March 2019