He’s back! Freddie Michalak was dropped to the bench following the Wales defeat but starts against Ireland in DublinBy Alan DymockTHERE IS a lot of love in the air. Not the kind of sickly sweet love, where champagne with strawberries is a must and a handmade card has to be presented on top of the Eiffel or Blackpool Tower while Frankie Goes to Hollywood blares out from a boombox circa ’92. Just lovely love for all things nice.So celebrate all the international days and holidays this weekend by rounding up all of your chums, taking them down the boozer and indulging their love of Six Nations rugby. Here’s a look ahead at round four…Return of the ‘lakNo sooner had everyone gruffly agreed that France were better without Freddie Michalak than Philippe Saint-Andre reinstated the mercurial half-back for the game against Ireland.Inside him there is a steadying force, with Morgan Parra winning his 50th cap while having to hold the France fly-half’s hand. Their task will be to try to work around the Irish playmakers and hope that any trouble that befalls Michalak cannot be punished by a fit-enough Paddy Jackson.The match-up between Michalak and Jackson will be interesting, and while the Irishman certainly seems to have the full support of his team, it only takes one bit of Michalak magic for us all to remember how good a player he can be when he is not dabbing kicks into gleeful defender’s chops.In the perfect world the fancy flyers on either side perform, the packs put in brave displays and Jackson comes of age while Michalak actually pulls off something he has been trying since the opening whistle of the championship.In the real world, though, it will be the team that is less wasteful that will renege on their recent form. Italy need to play a tad more negatively than they have in previous rounds. Their offloading has been superb, but they need to box-kick and pick-and-go to sap the English before looking to play with Jacques Brunel’s style. It may even help playing negatively at the start before picking up the pace on either side of half-time and then becoming negative again. If it is non-stop action and offloads for 80 minutes they will burn out against an England side conditioned to last.For the hosts, they will be convinced that if they can keep swinging low, but at greater pace, they are assured of a victory. NOT FOR FEATURED LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Marksman: Wales’ Leigh HalfpennyContenders’ contestAt Murrayfield there is a meeting of two teams still in the hunt for a title. Whether or not Scotland are likely to claim their first ever Six Nations title or Wales retain the trophy is irrelevant. This is a spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Both teams are on a high and both want to ruck it out.The back threes on either side of the ball are exciting and this game represents a chance for the tournament to flourish once again, with tries and turnovers, runs and rearguard action capturing the imagination.If both throw the kitchen sink and the toilet, too, this has the potential to be the game of the tournament (unless Wales win. Then, of course, Wales versus England at the Millennium Stadium will undoubtedly be the game of the tournament…).Captain marvel: Sergio ParisseSlam-pedeThe Italians will be hoping that the reinstatement of Sergio Parisse can help them bounce back. However, England are on an upwards curve and by swapping in dynamic ball-carriers in Mako Vunipola, James Haskell and Danny Care, they are clearly planning an unrelenting punch to the guts of Italy.Italy may not double over, but England are marching towards a Grand Slam and they are trying to pick up the pace.
Published on March 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm Comments Remember that time Syracuse was playing Gonzaga and the feisty Bulldog attack was supposed to expose a planet-sized hole in the Orange’s game plan after Rick Jackson committed his third foul? Yeah, me neither.The truth is, Syracuse chugged along Saturday with its biggest weakness exposed, flapping behind it like a loose bumper on the highway, begging for the well-equipped Zags to take a stab at it. And 30 minutes later, Wes Johnson and company were still rolling, ignoring the ‘check engine’ light and plowing through their second-round matchup. It should have been a distraction, or at least a bump along the way, but the Orange ended up winning the game by 22 — the Bulldogs just another blurry vision in the rearview mirror.It has been the same story all year. We all thought Syracuse would eventually slip up. It never did. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIt’s that kind of resilience that shows why Syracuse will win the national championship. ‘We took it amongst ourselves to go out there and play hard,’ Johnson said. ‘We’re coming off the two-game losing streak and winning the previous game with Vermont. We came here and played our game of basketball. That was the main thing we were trying to do.’ The story last Sunday was supposed to be about life without injured center Arinze Onuaku and moving on without the ‘seven-starter’ rotation that had gotten Syracuse to the Big Dance in the first place. But by day’s end, all the chatter was about how dynamic Johnson played, how freshman point guard Brandon Triche appears more confident than ever, and how Andy Rautins continues to keep his team humble and emotionally under control. The game showed that Syracuse wasn’t mired in a funk following the Big East tournament, just as it showed that SU wasn’t just a polished clunker with no horsepower like some of its conference counterparts. ‘Syracuse basketball is about being ready to play and being consistent,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. ‘We’re usually ready to play.’It has gotten to the point where this isn’t really that much of a bold statement. Forget Bracketology, how Syracuse fares against mid-majors or its record west of the Mississippi.The reason Syracuse is primed for a national championship is because of moments like the ones Sunday against Gonzaga. It has been right in front of our eyes the whole time. Throughout the season, there were a million occurrences when the Orange was expected to fail and it proved everybody wrong. North Carolina was supposed to be too tall, too physical for Syracuse in November. Cornell was pegged as the quintessential trap game, the ideal opportunity for SU to come crashing back down to earth before the conference schedule started. With a banged-up Johnson, Syracuse was supposed to struggle against Villanova in front of a sold-out Dome, just like it was against Georgetown down in D.C. And when facing Gonzaga, the Orange was supposed to struggle without one half of its two-headed frontcourt monster. The team has been hearing these doubts, these second guesses since Midnight Madness, and it’s getting to the point where Syracuse deserves the benefit of the doubt. If there’s a leak in the frontcourt, it’s more than likely they’ll fix it. If the opposition has better guard play, chances are SU will be able to game plan around it. It’s the same thing the team’s been doing all year. ‘We try to play with a chip on our shoulder whenever we go out there,’ sophomore guard Scoop Jardine said. ‘It was a team that was doubted in the beginning of the year. Every time we go out there we try to take it one game at a time and play Syracuse basketball. ‘Coming into the Tournament, we had lost two games straight. People kind of turned their heads. Then we lost Arinze Onuaku. We knew it was a good team all year and we could stick together and just play basketball.’And now, as Syracuse begins the final drive toward another Final Four, there’s going to be a whole new set of doubts and concerns. What will SU do if Butler gets red hot from beyond the 3-point arc? How will it contain Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen in the Elite Eight? Will Evan Turner or John Wall take over and crush the dream in Indianapolis? At this point, we might now know a little better. Think about the last time you doubted Syracuse this season and remember what happened. Odds will say 30 out of 34 times you were better off ignoring it and trusting in the team that has defied all of our expectations. Conor Orr is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] Facebook Twitter Google+