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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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10 BINGE-WORTHY BOXSETS TO STREAM DURING LOCKDOWN

With us back in lockdown for the third time, it’s important that we do what we can to be a little kinder to ourselves.  The Vulcans are doing plenty to keep their fitness up until we can return to training thanks to the help of online HIIT sessions courtesy of Analise Moran from Moran Personal Training and taking part in our weekly Strava challenge which saw the team bank over 487 miles between them. However, it’s just as important to look after ourselves mentally as well  and the best way to do this is to recover from exercise and the stresses of everyday life by taking time for yourself doing something you enjoy.

That said, everyone has their own unique way of recharging their batteries when it comes down to it. For example, some like to meditate, some enjoy music and some like to turn their hand to something creative. However, if you’re like one of the 11.5 million households up and down the UK who subscribe to Netflix, you might have shared a status with the Facebook hivemind asking for recommendations on what to watch next. So, with this in mind, your friendly Sheffield Vulcans have got together to recommend 10 Binge-Worthy Box Sets to Stream During Lockdown to prevent you from wasting your precious time browsing the endless libraries of streaming platforms.

Our first recommendation comes from Liam Goodwin who has been binging THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY on Netflix. For those who don’t know The Umbrella Academy is an American superhero series based on the comic book of the same name. It revolves around a dysfunctional family of adopted sibling superheroes who reunite to solve the mystery of their father’s death and the threat of an impending apocalypse. The cast includes Elliot Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Mary J. Blige, and more! So far there has been two seasons of the show which have received positive reviews from critics and a third season is on the way.

Liam recommends this show because it’s similar to X-Men but more violent. Also, it has a talking monkey and great soundtrack to boot! What more could you want?

Up next is STAR TREK DISCOVERY which comes from Andrew Gibson. The show is set a decade before the original Star Trek series and follows the crew of the USS Discovery as they discover new worlds and lifeforms as one Starfleet officer learns to understand all things alien. The show stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Jason Isaacs and more. Taking advantage of modern filming techniques and visual effects, the series has received several awards and positive reviews from critics. If this sounds like your sort of show then you’ll be able to find three seasons on Netflix.

Andrew recommends the show because of how inclusive the show is. This modern spin on Star Trek focuses on diversity whilst taking audiences on amazing sci-fi adventures.

Our Next pick comes from Michael Hudson who is a massive fan of MODERN FAMILY. An American family sitcom, Modern Family that follows the lives of three diverse family set-ups in suburban Los Angeles. Presented in a mockumentary style, with the characters frequently speaking directly to the camera in confessional interview segments, Modern Family has received many awards and has been praised for the way it represents modern-day families and the situations that we all encounter in real life with a comical twist. Eight series of Modern Family can be found on Netflix.

Michael recommends the show because its funny, diverse, and heart-warming. Through 11 seasons you get to see the family grown and change with hilarious scenarios both relatable and over the top. With marriages, deaths, births, breakups, career changes, and the struggle of being an unemployed millennial, there is a story for everyone.

Our fourth pick comes from Gideon Hughes who recommends BROAD CITY. Starting off as a web series based on their real-life friendship, BROAD CITY was created and stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as two friends who attempt to “make it” in New York. The show has many surprising cameos and a very kooky sense of humour which is quick to resonate with audiences. After all, there’s a reason why the show received critical acclaim throughout its run. The show ran for five seasons which are all available to stream right now on Amazon Prime.

Gideon recommends the show because he finds it hilarious because of how original it is. The storylines freewheel a bit which is similar to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Best of all, the show has no filter!

Next up comes in the form of DERRY GIRLS which has been recommended by Michael Callaghan. The show is a British sitcom set in Derry, Norther Ireland, in the 1990s. The show follows Erin, her cousin Orla, their friends Clare and Michelle, and Michelle’s English cousin James as they navigate their teen years. The first series premiered on Channel 4 and has been hailed as the channel’s most successful comedy since Father Ted. If you fancy checking the show out you can find both seasons available to stream on All 4 right now.

Michael recommends the show because he finds it hilarious and very rewatchable. It also provides a slice of home for him when he feels homesick.

Our sixth pick comes from Matthew Littler who recommends BIG MOUTH. An adult animated coming-of-age sitcom from the creators of Family Guy, Big Mouth is a series that follows a group of teens as they navigate their way through puberty with struggles like masturbation and sexual arousal. Throw in over-sexualised should angels in the form of hormone monsters and what you have is an animation show that has continued to wow and shock audiences all over the world thanks to its sharp crude humour. If you fancy giving the show a spin there are four series available to watch on Netflix.

Matt recommends the show because he loves how fun it is to watch and it’s something that everyone can relate to… at least a little bit.

Fancy something a little spooky? Look no further than our seventh pick BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER recommended by Tom Stephens. Buffy is a supernatural drama series based on the 1992 film of the same name and follows Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the latest in a line of young women know as “Slayers”. Across its seven series, Buffy is joined by her friends to fight vampires, demons and other forces of darkness as she embraces her destiny and saves the world. The series received critical and popular acclaim throughout its run and has led to hundreds of tie-in products, including novels, comics and video games. If you would like to check out the show you can watch all seven series on Amazon Prime.

Tom recommends Buffy the Vampire Slayer because it’s an absolute classic jam packed with nostalgia and hilarity.

Next up Michael Rennison recommends the British black comedy series FLEABAG. Written and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag sees Waller-Bridge appear as the title character, a free-spirited and sexually active but confused woman living in London. In the show the protagonist frequently breaks the fourth wall to provide exposition, internal monologues, and a running commentary to the audience. The show has received widespread acclaim and rightfully so because it’s amazing. The show only has two seasons and is currently available to steam on iPlayer.

Michael recommends the show because it’s absolutely hilarious.

Our next recommendation comes from Chris Moore who loves a bit of SEX EDUCATION. The show follows Asa Butterfield as a teenage boy living with his sex therapist mum (Gillian Anderson) who sets up an underground sex therapy clinic at his school with the help of his classmate. Once the show debuted on Netflix it was reported that over 40 million viewers steamed the show within its first month of release and has been hailed as “bawdy, heartfelt, and surprisingly wise.” With plenty of laugh out loud moments there’s so much to enjoy about Sex Education. If you fancy giving the show a go then head over to Netflix where you can enjoy two seasons right now.

Chris recommends the show because it’s wicked fun, has great characters and addresses some big societal issues head-on. It also strikes a perfect balance of making things matter of fact, without trivialising them either.

Our last recommendation comes from Jon Dickinson who is a big fan of INSIDE NO. 9, a black comedy anthology series written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. Each 30-minute episode is a self-contained story with new characters and a new setting. The stories are linked only by the number 9 in some way and a brass hare statue that is in the background of all statues.  Themes and tone vary from episode to episode, but all have elements of comedy, horror and perverse humour, in addition to a plot twist. So far there have been five series of Inside No. 9 and they’re all available on iPlayer.

Jon recommends the show because it offers so much variety. If you like it spooky check out The Harrowing from Series 1 or Dead Line from Series 4. If you like it funny try check out Zanzibar from Series 4 or Sardines from Series 1. If you like to be moved emotionally check out The 12 Days of Christine from Series 2 or Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room from series 4. It doesn’t matter what you’re into, there will be an episode of Inside No. 9 for you!

Honourable mentions: SHITT’S CREEK(Netflix), RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE (Netflix), WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (iPlayer), TASKMASTER (All 4), PARKS AND RECREATION (Amazon Prime), END OF THE F***ING WORLD (Netflix), CATASTROPHE (Amazon Prime), THE GOOD PLACE (Netflix), SANTA CLARITA DIET (Netflix), MADAM SECRETARY (Amazon Prime), THE OFFICE US (Netflix), MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL (Amazon Prime), AFTER LIFE (Netflix), GHOSTS (iPlayer), WANDAVISION (Disney+) and THE LAST DANCE (Netflix).

There you have our 10 Binge-Worthy Box Sets to Stream During Lockdown. If you would like to share your recommendations with us let us know on social media by using the hashtag #VulcanVoice. Thanks for reading.

 

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VOICE OF A NEW PLAYER: MEET JONATHAN WILCOCKSON

Let us take this opportunity to introduce another one of our new recruits… Jonathan Wilcockson! He joined the team back in the Summer and firmly believes that life should be about participating; not just spectating. That’s why he’s never thought twice about giving something a go. This is his story…

Jonathan is no stranger to Rugby, he used to play the game in school and rediscovered his love for the sport after the Sheffield Eagles advertised a £5 ticket offer a few years ago on a very cold January, “I was surprised how much more exciting being a spectator at a live sport event was, compared to watching such on TV – even the extremely dynamic and physical game that rugby is.  Since then I have been rather hooked – purchasing a season ticket for the first time in my life and even going to see rugby (league and union) games played by other teams when on holidays. ”

By the time the pandemic hit early 2020, Jonathan decided to embrace his mantra (life should be about participating; not just spectating) and use the time as a driver for him to find a new leisure activity to integrate some exercise into his typical week. It was this, his passion for the sport and his knowledge of the Vulcans from attending previous Vulcans games as a spectator which brought him to our pitch as a member of our most recent recruitment drive.

Now in his 40s (yeah – we don’t believe him either), Jonathan’s desire to improve his health has seen him get stuck in during training sessions and he’s never let his age stop him from contributing to the team. We love having on the team because he has no fear in taking down his opponents making and taking incredible tackles when in training sessions.

When asked about what he likes about being a Vulcan he said, “I like the opportunity to have fun playing rugby and getting out in the (at times VERY) fresh air up at Dore Moor – plus the virtual and until, increasing restrictions and lockdown, in person networking and socialising with others from Sheffield and surrounding areas. ”

This is just the start of Jonathan’s story and we’re excited to see him make his game debut when the world is safe to do so. In the meantime, if you’re looking to take on a new challenge or want to give the Vulcans a try at a future training session, listen to what Mr. Wilcockson has to say, “I think people regret things they do not try far more than things they do: if you are even half contemplating whether it is for you, just come along and give it a go.  The first 4 sessions are free, so there is nothing to lose but a few hours on a midweek evening plus your curiosity – and you’re unlikely not to enjoy it.”

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VOICE OF A NEW PLAYER: MEET GIDEON HUGHES

Gideon Hughes is another one of our new recruits.  He moved to Sheffield to start a new job earlier this year and made it his mission to meet new people and make new friends in the Steel City. It wasn’t long before he discovered the Vulcans on Social Media and his IGR journey began. This is his story…

When I moved to Sheffield earlier this year, I wanted to expand my social circle. So when I was settled in my new job and my new home, the next task was to meet new people and make new friends. Never one to shy away from challenges that are outside of my comfort zone, I came across the Vulcans on social media.

I must admit, I had very little experience playing rugby but I was excited to see that the Vulcans would accept anyone interested in playing the sport irrespective of their playing experience. I love to work out and regularly run in the local park to keep my fitness levels up and I knew Rugby would be a fun way to exercise and meet new people.

Thinking back to that very first training session, the first few minutes were daunting. I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone was very accepting of new players and I wasn’t alone in starting rugby for the first time. The training was great for complete newbies like me, there was no judgement and it was definitely good exercise. I also loved that everyone went for a drink afterwards so you could get to know people off the pitch.

I knew I would definitely enjoy the social aspect of playing for a team and I was right. Not long after joining the Vulcan’s Birthday BBQ took place up at our home at Sheffield Tigers RUFC.  As the first proper social I went to, I loved every minute of the BBQ. It was the perfect opportunity getting to know people and the atmosphere. We had a socially distanced disco in the evening and the song choices at the end were very gay… and I was living for it!

On the pitch, I haven’t played a proper game yet because of the Coronavirus but I have been enjoying all the touch rugby games we get to play in training sessions every week. I’ve learnt so much about the game since the Summer and it makes me happy when I make any progress with my technique, even small things like learning how to present the ball.

That brings us up to date. Although I have not had the chance to play in a game, I’m really loving our training sessions. The Vulcans are a fantastic bunch of guys and I have been made to feel welcome from day 1. I’m so pleased I made the decision to join, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know my teammates and made some incredible friends in the process.

I’ll never regret my decision to join the Vulcans, they accepted me for being me and had the patience to show me the basics and develop my understanding of the sport of Rugby. If you’re out there and have an interest in joining the team, do it. I came with very little playing experience and so far I’ve found a new and exciting way to keep fit whilst meeting new people and making many friends.

We’d like to thank Gideon for taking the time to share his story with us. We’re thrilled to have him on the team and we can’t wait to get him on the pitch for his first game when time allows it.