The year ahead – 2016 in… Rugby
Twenty-sixteen is going to be a year to remember for sports fans in this country. SuperBowl 50, Cheltenham, the Olympics, the Euros, the All Ireland championships, the Autumn Internationals…. we’re exhausted even thinking about all that is on the horizon, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg!!
In anticipation of a bumper year of sport we’re looking ahead to some of the most hotly anticipated events of 2016. Today, it’s the turn of Rugby!
Six Nations Ireland Women v Wales weekend February 5th/6th 2016
A new year, a new home. The reigning Six Nations Women’s Champions make the move to Donnybrook for the 2016 campaign as they look to defend their title for the first time ever. Following the epic Grand Slam winning season of 2013, the Irish women bounced back to claim the Championship with a final day victory over Scotland last spring. The Donnybrook venue will bring back happy memories for Nora Stapleton, Sophie Spence and Ailis Egan among others who helped Old Belvedere to win a third AIL title there in December, but they will be up against it in an ever improving competition. While away games against England and France may prove crucial, the Irish ladies can ill afford to rest on their laurels considering Italy defeated France and Scotland overcame world champions England in last year’s tournament. Can Ireland make it a two in a row or will England lead to the charge and reclaim the trophy they last won in 2012? Only time will tell!
Six Nations Ireland v Scotland March 19th 2016
Ireland and Scotland have mirror image Six Nations campaigns. The Scots host France and England while Joe Schmidt’s men must go away to take on the behemoth’s of the European game. Ireland host Wales and Italy, while Scotland travel to both. Following a dire few years, the dander is up once again for Scottish rugby and they will be keen to build on an impressive World Cup – and with the English and French teams coming to terms with new management structures and styles of play, by the time Scotland roll into Dublin on the last weekend of the Six Nations, this could very well be the decisive game of the tournament. With so much wounded pride after a terrible 2015 RWC for Europe, this year’s campaign should be a belter.
PRO 12 Play-offs May 20th/21st/22nd 2016
With the possible exception of Ulster who could yet keep Toulouse at bay in Pool 1, it looks like there will be no Irish involvement in the latter stages of the European Champions Cup in 2016. It’s a huge blow for Munster and Leinster, so long the pre-eminent forces in the top competition but what that does mean is that the Pro12 will take on huge significance for the provinces for the remainder of the season. With half the season behind them already Leinster sit second in the table with a game in hand. Connacht, still smarting after their New Year’s Day defeat to their rivals are in third, still in the play-off positions. Munster sit in fifth while Ulster are one place below. Connacht play both those teams in the final four rounds. They could be huge games – potentially even era defining for Connacht and Munster especially.
World Rugby Women’s Sevens Olympic Repechage Tournament 25th/26th June 2016
Rugby Sevens will make its debut at the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016 and Ireland may yet have two sides in the competition. The men’s teams final chance to qualify comes in Monaco in June, while the women’s team have home advantage a week later when the IRFU host the final qualifier in Belfield. The tournament winners will go on to the Olympics in Rio so the stakes could not be higher, and hopefully with the experience gained on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Tour, Ireland will be in a great position to join the global jamboree next August. Sixteen teams will compete in Dublin and we’d urge fans to get along to see some top class action and cheer on the home nation.
Autumn Internationals Ireland v New Zealand November 19th 2016
This could be a crucial year for Ireland’s hopes in the 2019 World Cup! Amazing as it sounds, it’s true. The organisers of RWC2019 have refused to rule out a change to the current structure of picking the groups three years in advance of the next tournament. Back in 2012, despite being Grand Slam champions, Wales went on to lose three summer internationals to Australia, and then lost four more games to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia again. That sent them tumbling out of the top eight in the rankings and right into a group with England & the Wallabies in the 2015 RWC.
Ireland must win at least one of their three tests in South Africa this summer to ensure that they don’t start to slip further in the rankings – they currently sit sixth with France, England and Scotland immediately behind them. Canada will be swatted aside in the Autumn but with the two World Cup finalists to come then before the end of 2016, there is a lot riding on shaking off the WC hangover this year. In truth, a long overdue win over the All Blacks would make the year.
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