Ireland Six Nations Preview: The good, the bad and the ugly

Six Nation’s time. The question is will Ireland show up for the party or will they just be like drunken also-rans flapping about on the dancefloor?

The Good
As 2013 is an odd year Ireland will face the two favourites for the Six Nations title, England and France, at home. Winning the tournament’s opening match in Cardiff against Grand Slam holders Wales would create huge momentum for Ireland, and home support against les Blues and na Sasanaigh could be enough for Ireland to reclaim the championship.

The success of Munster and Ulster in this year’s Heineken Cup has bred confidence in the likes of David Kilcoyne, Craig Gilroy and Felix Jones while in Ian Madigan, Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley there is hope for a future star at out half. 22 year old Simon Zebo has solidified the potential he showed in 2011 and should play a major role as a try finisher and broken field runner this year in a green jersey.

Leinster’s failure to qualify to the knock out stage of the Heineken Cup is a blessing in disguise for Ireland. With places up for grabs on the Lion’s Tour of Australia this summer, the Six Nations represents the last chance for Leinster’s marquee players to showcase themselves on an international stage.

The Bad
Untimely distractions have come thick and fast for the Irish camp and as of yet the dust has not settled. Declan Kidney’s decision to permanently install Jamie Heaslip as team captain in the place of Brian O’Driscoll has left a bad taste in the mouth for what is to be O’Driscoll’s final Six Nations. While his position in the team has come under pressure, there was no need to replace O’Driscoll as captain, and Heaslip’s leadership qualities will be pushed to the limit if he is to guide Ireland to victory.

Jonny Sexton’s move to Racing Metro has bred uncertainty among the Leinster camp with Rob Kearney believing Sexton’s departure could “open the floodgates” for an Irish exodus to overseas clubs. It’s a professional game and of course money talks, but rumours that Sexton demanded the tag of “top player wage” from the IRFU means that unity is far from a given in the Irish camp.

Over the past year pressure has mounted on Declan Kidney and his coaching staff. Repeated backroom changes mean that Les Kiss no longer holds both roles of Attack Coach and the Defence Coach, with Anthony Foley taking charge of the latter. Kidney’s current contract ends after the Six Nations and should only be renewed if, 1) he is proven right about Heaslip’s captaincy; 2) he successfully mixes youth with experience in the backline; and 3) Ireland perform well at Lansdowne against France and England.

The Ugly
Since this time last year Ireland have played ten games and only won three of them; beating Italy and Scotland in the 2012 Six Nations, and then defeating an exhausted Argentina in the 2012 Autumn series. Anything short of a good campaign this year will see fans calling for change.

Ireland Six Nations Schedule
Wales v Ireland Millennium Stadium Sat 2nd Feb 13 13:30
Ireland v England Aviva Stadium Sun 10th Feb 13 15:00
Scotland v Ireland Murrayfield Sun 24th Feb 13 14:00
Ireland v France Aviva Stadium Sat 9th Mar 13 17:00
Italy v Ireland Stadio Olimpico Sat 16th Mar 13 14:30


Full Transcript: Lance Armstrong on Oprah

Here is the complete transcript of both parts of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah (with some live tweets thrown in here or there to satisfy any lingering OCD).

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Lance Armstrong Interview Part One: Initial Reaction

Amazing television. It’s 3.30am as I type this and I’ve restarted the tape and want to watch it all over again. The first 5 minutes were absolutely riveting. His one word Yes or No answers which contradict everything he’s said for 15 years was simply amazing television.

But all the time there was the feeling that he’s not revealing the whole truth. His assertion that he took no performance enhancing drugs during his comeback in 2009-2011 is simply not believable. I suppose it’s simply an inconvenient coincidence his admission to drug taking from the early 90s until 2005 fall outside the statue of limitations, whereas admitting more recent drug taking would leave him open further federal probes and investigations.

Oprah did an OK job, she obviously had to get up to speed fairly quickly – but she seemed to overlook a lot of the detail (e.g. about Ferrari, his thoughts on Landis and the UCI) in favour of getting broad stroke generalities.

If anything Armstrong came across better from a PR point of view when he was being cautious rather than when he let his guard down and spoke openly. His answers to questions on Betsy Andreu and Emma O’Reilly will haunt him long after this interview. His lack of empathy and understanding really point towards what many on live blogging on Twitter characterised as “psychopathic”. For example, it was reported that Lance called Betsy “a fat, crazy bitch”. Lance’s reaction was that he never called her fat. As for Emma O’Reilly whom he called a whore while under oath…? Well he couldn’t remember if he sued her or not. As was pointed out on David Epstein’s twitter (which you should check out by the way) Armstrong employed the passive tense every now and again, example: Emma O’Reilly was one of those people who “got run over”. Not “I ran her over and called her an alcoholic prostitute”. He also said O’Reilly was one of the people he had to apologise to. The truth is not your friend Lance.

Looking back at some of his comments one of the ones that stands out now is that he referred to himself as “an arrogant prick”. The closest he came to tears was after he was showed a clip of himself on the winning podium of the Tour de France in 2005 as he attacked the “sceptics and the cynics” for not believing in him. His reaction was embarrassment but he felt that it was a “lame” way to leave the Tour and he felt he had to come back.

Armstrong said he did not feel bad or that he was cheating while he took drugs. For him it was the same as having air in the tyres and water in the bottles. The discussion literally came down to semantics when he described looking up the word cheat in the dictionary and confirmed to himself at the time that he wasn’t cheating. Oprah really should have pushed harder at moments like that. Lots of references to him “not being a fan of the UCI” but Oprah didn’t push forward on that either as she might have…

All in all, sitting up here at a silly hour in the morning, I know I’ll remember where I was when reputation of the most successful pro cyclist of his generation and a once bone fide American hero was completely shattered. To put it simply, he’s a scary scary man, who perhaps somewhat less deluded that he was but who still thinks of himself as special and unbeholden to anyone. His control of his emotions even at a time like this though is impressive and yet there were many moments where he rattled off pre-rehearsed statements (the whole “scary” “scarier” “scariest” routine comes to mind). To me it seems he’s only caught out badly at times he lets his guard down, e.g. the Betsy A (“she wouldn’t mind me saying this…”) and Emma O’R exchanges.

That’s me done, off to bed, part two tomorrow should be good too. Disappointed Oprah didn’t nail him down on certain issues, but all in all I can’t see how Armstrong will come out of this with any kind of sympathy or understanding with the public at large.

Five Things to Remember before Lance Armstrong’s Interview

1 The “just laying around” picture

After the release of USADA’s damning report in October of 2012 and the media maelstrom that followed, Armstrong maintained radio silence. One month later, having stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong charity, Armstrong tweeted this photo of him “back in Austin just laying around” his living room with his seven winning Tour de France jerseys framed on the wall. No sweat there.

2 The bullying

Many examples of this. Armstrong made scurrilous insinuations against team soigneur Emma O’Reilly as an excuse for her hurried and uncomfortable departure from the team; vilified Paul Kimmage using cancer sufferers as a shield to evade probing questions, and as leader of the Tour de France effectively excommunicated Christophe Bassons from professional cycling.

Dozens of people were directly affected by Armstrong’s alpha male machoness, and millions more must feel disgusted by his manipulative use of a remarkable cancer survivor story as a smokescreen to bully many into silence.

3 The 1998 Tour de France

Referred to as the Tour du Dopage, the 1998 edition of the Tour de France might as well never have begun after police raids of team cars found enough drugs, blood bags and syringes to fill a pharmacy. Riders were tossed out, whole teams banned, stages abandoned, and results made void. The subsequent 1999 Tour de France was billed as the Tour of Renewal, a chance for cycling to demonstrate it was clean and intent on regaining a decent public image. It also happened to be the first Tour for Armstrong after his recovery from cancer. Needless to say, the 1999 Tour did not herald the clean era of racing Tour organisers promised the media.

4 The dodgy business deals

As we go further into the rabbit hole of the Armstrong scandal, information is emerging about the lucrative benefits Armstrong enjoyed as a result of his charity Livestrong, with shadowy deals and alleged conflicts of interests being reported in recent newspaper articles. Following money trails is the life blood of investigative reporting, and now that the floodgates are opening on Armstrong expect more to follow. Hell hath no fury like a long time silenced journalist. See the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for facts and figures.

5 To date Armstrong has admitted to nothing

Last year the New York Times produced a startling graph highlighting the proven drug cheats who finished in the top ten of the Tour de France from 1998 to 2012. It makes for fairly sickening viewing. Armstrong, as leader of the peloton through most of this time, had remarkable influence on an entire generation of riders and in many ways the maillot jaune must bear the weight responsibility. Until today he has admitted to nothing. Now, having been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, his Olympic medal, his sponsorship deals, and all but his most deluded fans, he has decided he is ready to “admit” to doping. For whose benefit was this decision made, Armstrong or cycling?

It’s human to pity those who suddenly lose everything. It’s human to forgive those who admit their transgressions. It’s not to conclude that Armstrong will remain a man not so much sorry he cheated but sorry he was caught.

Today is not a day for pity and forgiveness.