6 Nations Championship Finale 2013

Normal 0 14 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 This weekend sees the finale of the Championship which started very positively with good, open, attacking rugby but over the last 2 weeks of the Tournament, teams seem to have adopted a very cautious approach. Whether this has been due to the weather, player injuries, or the rapid flow of matches is debatable, but the spectacle has been missing for armchair viewers. The Murrayfield penalty fest last weekend would put many people of the sport, and if nothing else, it highlighted that the IRB need to sort out scrummaging and ensure referees are not again put in the very difficult position trying to adjudicate the aggressor! Scotland v Wales matches in the past have lead to changes in the kicking to touch rules, and perhaps the events of Saturday might force a change to the scrum and engagement rules. Wales deservedly won a poor match by scoring the only try and yet again Scotland, with hardly any possession or field position, still kept the match alive until the very end. Ireland produced a cracking start to their match against France but France eventually found a style and rhythm which they have been lacking, to squeeze out a 13-all draw in Dublin. This raises questions about the Irish teams’ ability to perform for a full match, and indeed whether France have eventually found the form which made them a pre Tournament favourite. By far the best match, and played in the best conditions, and by two teams intend on playing creative rugby was the match on Sunday where Italy gave England , the Grand Slam hopefuls, a lesson on commitment. If only Italy had taken either of the two try opportunities in the final quarter!  The super Saturday planning in now underway- the TV is set up, the food has been bought, the drink is ready, and 3 consecutive matches await! The usual Saturday chores will take a back seat- 7 hours of rugby!  First up, we have Italy and Ireland which promises to be a cracking match in which two committed and talented teams, with nothing to lose, will battle it out in Rome. Parisse and his influence, the crowd and passion of the Stadio Olympico, will swing this match towards an Italian victory, in a season which might even have been better. Ireland will score tries on Saturday but the enthusiasm and discipline of Italy will count. The second match and the 6 Nations Championship decider is Wales v England at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. The atmosphere will be electric and Wales, in formidable form this year are proving very difficult to beat. While they have not been playing the open, adventurous rugby of last year, Wales will have the passion and skill-set to test the mental and physical preparation of England. The favourites however must be England and they have played the most varied and technically accomplished rugby this season, and can vary their game plan with key decision makers all over the field. The test of Farrell’s kicking and temperament, the influence of the English back row if the going is tight and heavy as predicted will influence the outcome. Wales, if the game breaks up and becomes loose, will take advantage with their ball winning back row then dominating the match as they did last weekend at Murrayfield. The heart says Wales to win but the calculating head predicts an England victory and 6 Nations Championship. Finishing off the days events at 8.00 UK time, France host Scotland in a match which on the evidence of the season so far, for both sides, is likely to be dire! A mid table spot for Scotland will be a positive and for France a disaster. Both teams need to convince their loyal supporters that they capable teams and can play some creative rugby, so with the pressure off and only pride at stake, I predict a high scoring match with France coming out on top, but with Scotland finishing the season with a try scoring flourish.       The 6 Nations Championship this year has promised much but delivered little, yet will not be decided until the last minutes of the Wales- England match. Hopefully the other two matches will give us all something to celebrate if those teams can relax and enjoy rugby for what it is- a passionate and exciting sport, defined by tries and running rugby, and a sport not dominated by the referee!  It promises to be exciting! Do what we are doing and watch along with your friends and a bottle of your favourite dram!  By R.F.Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist, is HR Adviser to Glen Grant Distillery in Speyside.                st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}      


6 Nations Championship 2013

Normal 0 14 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 The last round of the Championship turned out as predicted and a stuffy away win in Italy gave Wales a boost- not only did they win but a number of injured players returned while other such as Mike Philips found their form and performed exceptionally well in Rome against Italy, a side lacking some leadership and direction on the pitch. This hard earned away win sets Wales up for a challenging encounter in Edinburgh this weekend. The Scotland – Ireland match was a crucial event for both teams. Scotland needed to win to convince the world that they were back on track and Ireland, stung by criticisms of their performance against England, needed to demonstrate that they had not suddenly become a passive and aging team. The atmosphere at Murrayfield was intense and the match statistics would suggest that Ireland should have won by a country mile! The fact that Scotland tackled until the Irish threat disappeared back to Dublin and then kicked 4 penalties out of four demonstrates that there are both many ways to win and lose international matches! Scottish heroes included Geoff Cross, Jim Hamilton and Captain Kelly Brown, all of whom must have gone to bed on Saturday night still tackling green shirted runners! Ireland will have many better days and should have won this match but for an inability to change their game plan and tactics during the match, and a failure in making sensible captaincy decisions when the going was tough. They must now regret not taking the early match penalties rather than kicking for the corners and attempting the take on Scotland physically. Greg Laidlaw, the man of the moment for his cool tactical and goal kicking skills, was a reminder that you do not need to be massive to be influential.     England in the third match of the weekend changed their style of play again and took on France in mid field with what can only be considered a titanic battle between Bastareaud and Manu Tuilagi. This spectacle of fit, aggressive 17 ½ stone centres knocking lumps out of each other was not for the fainthearted! An outstanding score by Fofana for France and a reply by Tuilagi supported by accurate place kicking from Farrell and Flood saw England home safely, if not completely convincingly, against French side which is still underperforming. The competition is fierce this year and at the moment while England are the only side who can win the Grand Slam, Wales and Scotland could actually win the championship! Italy, France and Ireland having lost more than one match in the campaign are now in a damage limitation mode seeking some respectability in the last two matches. First up this weekend is Scotland and Wales. Traditionally this is marked by a huge exodus of Welsh supporters, arriving in Scotland and often staying Speyside, Aberdeenshire and Inverness. Whether attracted by the Whisky or the social life, these hardly supporters over the years did not attend Murrayfield but enjoyed Scottish hospitality! Those making it this year will see the match of the tournament. I predict a high scoring event where Wales will look to exploit their pace and finishing skills against a very tough tackling defensive formation, yet including players such as Hogg, Visser and Maitland who can turn any match. Home advantage, a patriotic crowd and a team full of self confidence and belief, will swing this match to Scotland. The second match this weekend is Ireland against France in Dublin. Still reacting form last weeks defeats, Ireland and France will need to recapture the style and ability which made them co-favourites to win this years Tournament. Both have under performed and with the Irish injuries in key positions, and France still not yet performing, it is difficult to predict this match. France have the greater depth of players, but have still to perform for 80 minutes in any match this year, yet have the ability to score tries out of nothing-a skill Ireland seem to have lost this season. France to win in a high scoring match.  England is the most accomplished team in the tournament, able to vary their style to suit the opposition and the conditions. Home advantage matches in important and their match against Italy with Sergio Parisse returning to stiffen the defensive and offensive structures will allow Italy to compete more effectively and will perhaps result in a closer match than initially predicted. England has made a few changes and might suffer from that, and Italy will be boosted by the sense of being the underdog. If they can learn from Scotland, be patient and tackle, and then take the few chances which are likely to result, we will be in for a closer match than many anticipate. Still, I go for a home win for England, in this, the third match of the weekend The 6 Nations Championship will not be decided until the last match, but this weekends results will rule out at least one of the 3 contenders. It promises to be exciting rugby and as a Scotsman, watching on TV with a group of friends in a Castle owned by a Whisky company in Scotland, I am confident of a great weekend irrespective of the outcome of any of the matches! So, if you cannot attend, do what we are doing and watch along with your friends and a bottle of your favourite dram!  R.F.Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist, is HR Adviser to Glen Grant Distillery in Speyside.                st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}


6 Nations Championship 2013

After the excitement of the first couple of weeks, we have had a bit of a breather and time to reflect on how the Championship is shaping up. The key issue facing each team is that of consistency. Or conversely, from a coaching perspective, inconsistency! Take Ireland for example. They blew Wales away in the first half of the first match at the Millennium Stadium, and for the next a match and half they have been infuriatingly inconsistent. Wales, on the other hand, having given up in that first match, responded with an impressive away win against a French side who have not only been consistently underperforming, but also have been lacking flair and energy. Scotland, so poor against England, rose to the occasion against Italy who were unable to gain the consistency needed at this level and to deliver consecutive high performances. Of all the coaches involved this year, by far the most satisfied must be Stuart Lancaster, the English coach. England has been able to vary their style of play and have recorded 2 outstanding wins, in markedly different styles and circumstances. Open, aggressive rugby against Scotland and a tight, forward dominated performance in extreme condition against Ireland, has given them the consistency needed to set themselves up for a Grand Slam. In terms of player performances, in this a Lions Tour year, a number of names must already be pencilled in to Warren Gatling’s book. Irrespective of the politics, the bulk of the selected Lions party will be English, but the flavour of the Touring party comes from the cross section of other Home Nation players selected. Stuart Hogg, Ryan Grant, Johnnie Beattie, Richie Gray from Scotland, Andrew Coombes, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and Justin Tipuric from Wales are all performing exceptionally well and must come into consideration, especially if they can keep playing consistently well over the last 3 matches of the Championship. The Irish contingent conversely seems to be either playing themselves out of consideration at present, or picking up injuries or suspensions at a crucial time. Jamie Heaslip, an early season favourite to captain the Lions squad is off form, as is Brian O’Driscoll, and an suspension to Cian Healy will not have done his Lions selection chances any good. Rory Best and Sean O’Brien also will want to put their hands up for selection, and both need a good game, as does Rob Kearney, in direct comparison to Scotland’s 6 Nations hero, Stuart Hogg. As for this week’s matches, Wales play Italy in Rome, and that is a trip which has many worrying memories for the Welsh. Playing at home, Italy will wish to repeat their early season performance against France. Playing without their Captain and talisman Sergio Parisse, suspended for 6 weeks for his attempts at instructing a French referee in nuances of the Italian language last weekend, Italy will struggle particularly against a rejuvenated Ryan Jones inspired Welsh team. Wales playing Italy in Rome is a trip which has many worrying memories for the Welsh. Italy will wish to repeat their early season performance against France. Playing without their Captain and talisman Sergio Parisse, suspended for 6 weeks for his attempts at instructing a French referee in nuances of the Italian language last weekend, Italy will struggle particularly against an inspired Welsh team. An away win for Wales to keep alive a 6 Nations play off at the Millennium Stadium, against England. England, on fire and capable of paying rugby in all conditions, must start the second  match of the weekend against France as clear favourites. However, France have not become a poor team overnight, and if they can find some consistency, they may well surprise the 6 Nations favourites and beat England at Twickenham. The safe money however is on England! The Sunday match this weekend is Scotland against Ireland, a match which is likely to be high scoring and open, with Scotland on a high, and Ireland wishing to re-establish their standing in the Championship. Momentum, home advantage and consistency of selection are important factors and that suggests a home win for Scotland. Irrespective of the outcomes of any match this weekend, the 6 Nations Championship will not be decided until the last match, with only France as the team surprisingly out of the running. Yet France has the capability of turning the Championship around completely, and with 8 changes made to their team, they might just do that at Twickenham! So, if you cannot get to one of the matches this weekend, crack open a bottle of 10 year old Glen Grant, and enjoy another instalment of 6 Nations rugby!    By R.F.Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist, is HR Adviser to Glen Grant Distillery in Speyside.


6 Nations Rugby Tournament 2012: mid season review, by R.F. Cunningham

This weekend sees the mid point of this year 6 Nations Tournament with England, France and Wales undefeated with France having played only 1 match. The early match on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin-better remembered to older fans as Lansdowne Road, which must have been the only Stadium in the world where the DART railway system had a station under the stand-will host the Azzurri. Italy have promised so much this year, playing attractive and aggressive rugby, will start by testing the Irish forwards in the scrums and lineout but the Irish back row and their creative half backs may swing this match.Should the Italian back row play as well on Saturday as they did against England, however they may well produce a result but only if the Italian half backs play, and if Kris Burton takes the penalty chances which they missed last week. Against an experienced Irish side, Italian fans might end up drowning their sorrows in one of the many drinking establishments in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. Actually regardless of the result, that will happen anyway!With England playing Wales in the second match on Saturday at “Twickers”, the form book suggests a comfortable Welsh win in a fixture which traditionally is an open and high scoring event. England have, through injury to try scorer Charlie Hodgson, moved Owen Farrell to stand off and brought in Tuilangi to centre. These moves not only add to England’s attacking flair, but also strengthen their defence. Couple these changes to some smart play from first choice scrum half Ben Morgan, give a strangely attack minded look to what has been a very workman like and defensive England team.Wales on the other hand field a very settled and experience team who can produce flair and panache in bucket loads and at the same time a robust and focussed defensive performance, best shown in the first half of the Scotland match when they tackled the stuffing out of Scotland before turning on the style in the second half. The Welsh will repeat that on Saturday with Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts delivering when most needed. A night for the Taffies in Piccadilly!The third match of the weekend is the Scotland-France match at Murrayfield.The “Auld Alliance” through which Scotland sold whisky, bought French wine through the port of Leith, made royal marriages and shared history, will disappear as Scotland in front of a full, passionate and slightly partisan crowd will want to achieve the result their statistics in the matches to date would suggest they deserve.However, it is only points on the board which win matches and Scotland have been very poor at that so far. The changed half backs and full back will bring a cutting edge to this team, and if they can keep the ball away from our centres by “miss” moves, we might show the world that we can score tries and win matches!France, World Cup runners up, are the form team, an outfit capable of taking on the best in the world, and scoring tries for fun. When in the mood their forwards, through Nicholas Masi and his hugely experienced pack, will create havoc in the scrums and lineouts, but as a complete team they excite all rugby supporters when they start to run the ball from wide out field positions. Morgan Parra and his backs are likely to light up Edinburgh on Sunday, unless Scotland close them down effectively and convert the few opportunities they are likely to create, into tries and points. It could be a long day on Sunday for the loyal Scottish supporters, but then again we are always at our best, when likeItaly, we are the underdogs. Irrespective of the result, the bars inRose Street will be busy with the “Flower of Scotland” mingling with “La Marseillaise”! R.F. Cunningham                                                                   Bob Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist.  


6 Nations Rugby Tournament 2012 - Big Freeze- on and off the pitch! by R.F. Cunningham

Both Scotland and Italy have played England this year, and both, having played the better rugby, lost to a competent and workmanlike England team who continue to surprise pundits and fans alike by winning matches they perhaps should have lost! Italy scored 2 tries by backs Venditti and Benvenuti directly from pressure on the England players just before half time a key moment in that match, which with the conditions, suggested a notable home win! Not to be outdone on the big occasion, new cap Owen Farrell nailed 5 kicks at goal to add to yet another charge down try from Charlie Hodgson to record a second win away from home for England.Italy will be kicking themselves just as Scotland had the previous week, for the crucial errors in key minutes to close the match out. A bit more control from the Italian half backs, and an odd substitution of stand off Burton, at a critical moment lost this rare opportunity. Concerning for the Italian coach will be the rib injury suffered by Castrogiovanni, offset by the continuing stunning form of both Parisse and Bortolani and the other aggressive Italian forwards.The extreme weather in Rome was matched and indeed exceeded in Paris where the weather won! A delayed and inconsiderate decision at virtually the last minute to cancel the France v Ireland match was by far the most contentious decision in the history of the 6 Nations.This match should have been cancelled early that morning at the latest, and perhaps even on the Saturday, and not 10 minutes before kick off! A capacity attendance were left deflated but not surprised by the correct decision to cancel the match in the dangerous sub zero temperatures. Why on earth did the rugby authorities allow such a late scheduling of this match in the middle of the winter, at a Stadium with no sub soil heating? The date of the rescheduled match means that Ireland play 4 Internationals within a 4 week period. A tough call for the Irish!The third match of the weekend was the “big one” where surely the Scottish side would turn the season around, score a few tries and win a match. It wasn’t to be, and after 40 minutes of huffing and puffing, and another knock on at the Welsh line, the Wales v Scotland match exploded after half time.The Welsh team having been under the cosh took advantage of a school boy error by Cusiter, who misfielded the restart kick to give field position, and then a try to a charged up Welsh side. Whatever was said in the Welsh changing room at half time worked. Scotland team management are planning to suggest that future International matches are played for 80 minutes without a half time break!Wales ran out, on paper comfortable winners, but this new look Scottish side, with new cap Stewart Hogg electric and verging on a “Man of the Match” performance, the on form half back pairing of Blair and Laidlaw, and as stuffy a set of forwards as you will find in the 6 Nations, might well surprise a few sides before our visit to Rome in mid March!The Match Tickets, Kilt, Passport, Euros and hip flask of Glen Grant are all organised for that weekend. The Speyside contingent arrives on the Friday and leave on the Monday, and we are already looking forward to Italian hospitality!   R.F. Cunningham                                                                  


What a weekend-the heat is on! by R.F. Cunningham

What a weekend!  Italy played exceptionally well against France, and in many ways surprised the pundits with their new, open, adventurous style. The result did not reflect the effort put in by the Azurri, and 4 well constructed French tries swung the match. Very few teams could compete with the French when in the mood to play expansive, and if needs be, direct confrontational rugby. Italy, with their new approach to the game, tried to play attractive rugby but such a transition will not happen overnight, and perhaps attempting to play with their new style in Stade de France might not have been the “sensible” option. A home win, 30-12 for France, probably did not reflect the Italian effort but will have encouraged Italy, for their next encounter is against the team “we all like to beat”! Next up for Italy is the home match against England at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday. This is a match which can set up Italy for the rest of the season. This is a winnable match and I predict a home win. While the new look England squad will be in great spirits after their 13-6 Calcutta Cup win against Scotland, the statistics of that match tell an interesting story, and one which the Italian coaching team will be looking at closely. Possession, passion, field  positions, tackles made, scoring opportunities and line breaks made all suggest that Scotland would, an indeed should, have won that match comfortably. As a former internationalist and now a current supporter with a key board, it is very frustrating these days to support Scotland, who continually promise so much and deliver so little! Still, our approach to any sport in Scotland is to take part, give our best, and enjoy the little wins which come along every so often, giving us a not undeserved reputation as very magnanimous, sociable and good losers! I must admit to consuming a couple of 10 year old Glen Grant drams in the evening after the Calcutta Cup match, reflecting on what might have been!      The match of the weekend, and possibly the Tournament, was held on Sunday in Dublin, and perhaps this was the defining moment of this years Tournament. Wales won 21-23 away to Ireland, in the last minute of an engrossing match, full of action, tries, incidents, yellow cards, passion  and consistent high quality performances from Welshmen Jamie Roberts, Mike Philips and Jonathan Davies, Irish stars such Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heslip and Tommy Bowe. This was an International match of outstanding quality, settled with a last minute penalty kick from Leigh Halfpenny! It also sets up an interesting match at Cardiff on Sunday where rampant Wales face a shell-shocked Scottish team, missing the recently (and some say belatedly) retired Dan Parks, having gifted a decisive try to England within 30 seconds of the restart of last weeks match at Murrayfield. Cardiff hasn’t been a great venue for Scottish wins and indeed we have suffered some agonising defeat recently, including a traumatic last minute defeat 2 years ago, when Thom Evans, our flying winger suffered a major and rugby career ending neck injury, during a high octane performance from both teams, with Scotland blowing a substantial lead, and Wales closing out a superb recovery! France plays their second consecutive home match on Saturday against Ireland who will be highly motivated to get their season back on track. Ireland will be awaiting an IRB citing decision on the back row forward Steven Ferris, and the French make 4 changes to a winning team-only France could consider that! Advantage in this match is with France – a home match, a recent win and last Sundays Irish loss, probably sets up France, as favourites for a home win. Each match this weekend will provide close results and highly charged performances from players who enjoy the nature and format of international competition, and the successful teams will be those who have the fitness, structure, skills and the passion to win, along with an experienced bench to support those players picked to start each match. Roll on the weekend!   R.F. Cunningham Bob Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist  


6 Nations Rugby Tournament 2012, by R.F. Cunningham

Once into the month of February, thoughts move quickly to the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament and the renewal of rivalry on the field, and friendships off the field, in the bars and restaurants of Rome, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Paris, Dublin and London. The rugby will be intense and demanding and no doubt with some spectacular tries and immense performances.   Probably the most popular annual rugby event,  the 2012 Tournament is probably as open as any over the last 10 or so years.  There are no clear favourites for this years Tournament as each Nation has had a number of challenges to face during the build up to this event which kicks off with France and Italy in Paris, followed by the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England in Edinburgh on Saturday, with the final match of this weekend, Ireland v Wales, on Sunday 5th February. In the World Cup event in the Autumn, where they reached the final, losing narrowly to New Zealand, France delivered a strange and inconsistent performance, but with a new coach and coaching team, they will be very difficult firstly to predict and secondly to beat! Which French team turns up at 3.00 on Saturday in the Stade de France, and how they then play, will set the standard for the rest of the matches in the competition. Italy similarly has a new coaching team and a raft of new players now being produced by the professional club set up within Italy, and this might well be an occasion when Italy,  the Tournament joint underdogs ( with Scotland!),  might well cause a real surprise and take the game to France and record their first away win! Key to this match will be how Martin Castrogiovanni and Sergio Parise perform in the forwards, against a vastly experienced and talented French pack which when on form, can dominate any international match.  The second match of this weekend is Scotland v England, for the Calcutta Cup, at Murrayfield. This trophy, is the oldest rugby competition in the world, and as holders, England, with a new coaching staff and many new faces, including a new Captain in Chris Robshaw, will have a huge challenge on their hands, as a fired up Scotland team will need no motivation in front of a sell-out and wound up capacity crowd! How the much changed England squad respond to the intensity of a white hot Murrayfield on a bitterly cold evening will be interesting and one to observe with a dram or two! Scotland rarely need motivating to perform in this fixture and a key aspect of their game plan will be how the half backs Cusiter and Parks control the pace and field positions. The experience of the Scottish team however, with only 1 new cap in Lee Jones, and a strong and tested bench, makes Scotland favourites to win what will be a tough and closely contested match with relatively few try scoring opportunities for either side. Scotland, like Italy, have limited playing resources, fewer professional teams to select players from, and need to build on spirit, organisation and structure during the matches, while relying on individual skill and flair and determination to succeed. The underdogs could have a great start to the season, if both Scotland and Italy can catch their bigger and better resourced opponents cold, on what is likely to be particularly wintry day in both Paris and Edinburgh. The Wales-Ireland match could well be the match of this years’ 6 Nations, as both teams have young, talented and experienced players, and both tend to adopt a very aggressive and attack minded game plan. This match is likely to be a high scoring affair with home advantage giving a win to Ireland, who of all the 6 Nations teams, have had the least traumatic build up to the competition. With either Sexton and O’Gara at stand off, and O’Connell and O’Callaghan in the pack, it will take an immense performance from the young Welsh team to upset the Irish at home in the Aviva Stadium in Sunday. Wales proved in the World Cup that they can beat any team, and with a world class captain in Sam Warburton, a powerhouse centre in Jamie Roberts, consistent selection and an established coaching team and style, they will prove a real handful for Ireland.            R.F Cunningham  Bob Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist  

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