An Irishman’s guide to Crete – what to see and where to stay

Every Irish person has an idea of Greece and – depending on your age and interests – they probably include blue skies, beautiful islands and chic resorts, or perhaps ancient temples and shrines, revered philosophers, and world-changing history.

But what about the food? We don’t talk enough about how good – and how good for you – Greek food actually is, or how their farm-to-table culture strongly resembles our own and how it can result in some of the greatest (and healthiest) meals of your life. 

Although the Greek influence on Irish literature is unmistakable shouldn’t it be a stronger influence on our cooking too?

On this trip – which was my first – I spent the majority of my time on Crete, the largest of all the Greek islands, along the way enjoying some of the best meals I’ve ever sat down to.

I thought I knew Greece through its literature, but only an in-person visit will reveal the real riches waiting to be found there. Arriving in the island’s largest city Heraklion (in the company of a very lively American tour group) I was welcomed immediately with a local delicacy, the delicious Kalitsounia pastry.

A feathery soft hand pie made of cream cheese and honey, it’s a light/heavy mix of the sweet and savory I became a little obsessed with after my first bite, to be honest. The Greeks clearly know how to make a delicious first impression, so when I think of Crete from now on it’ll be as a land of quite literal cheese and honey.

Delicious cheese and honey filled Kalitsounia pastries welcome you to Crete

On our first evening in the port city of Chania, we dined at Apostolis Restaurant in the Old Town, a legendary seafood restaurant that serves as the perfect gathering place for early summer revels. This is where we first discovered the true meaning of Greek hospitality.

We lost count of the endlessly arriving courses – including, eventually, a melt-in-the-mouth dessert made of fried cheese and honey called sfakiani that served as a nightcap. Between all the substantial plates and the flying raki shots, by midnight, you could probably have rolled us home. 

Freshly made sfakiani at Apostolis Restaurant in Crete.

Freshly made sfakiani at Apostolis Restaurant in Crete.

Crete is a quietly fascinating place, I discovered. I have never been somewhere where I felt so foreign and yet so completely at home. So was this some kind of past life recall? Or was it all down to the raki?

I don’t have the answer but I can tell you that my spirit was at ease in Crete in a way that I took note of. I felt restored to myself, reborn even. So this trip was not just a highlight of the year but of my life, I think. I really didn’t expect that, but I wasn’t resisting. 

Featuring microclimates that run from temperate to the subtropical, Crete offers visitors everything from superb mediterranean dining at venues like the Carte Postale Restaurant overlooking the city of Chania, to outrageously upscale luxury resorts like Villa Cavo Dago, which affords expansive panoramas of the Aegean sea. 

The luxurious Villa Cavo Dago overlooks the Aegean sea

The luxurious Villa Cavo Dago overlooks the Aegean sea

If for any strange reason like football or Guinness you should find yourself homesick for the old sod, Crete has got you covered with, by my count, no less than twenty Irish bars scattered across the island.

Young Irish college students seem to choose Crete as a perfect destination for summer work experience and who could blame them? It has both beauty and value for money written all over it.

Affordable hotels, like the chic Halepa Hotel, are conveniently located just minutes from the center of Chania and offer the calmer pace of the Halepa district which you may welcome after the buzz of the city center, which is just a short walk away.

If you’re the robust type then know that Crete is a haven for adventure holidays. You can enjoy island-wide hiking along the craggy shorelines or even trek up into the mountains – expect to meet many hearty Germans in sensible shorts and hiking boots – or alternatively, there’s kite surfing, sea diving, and coastal speedboat trips too. 

That last option saw us whizzing off from the seaside town of Chora Sfakion one morning to take a fast boat to otherwise inaccessible coastal villages like Loutro and the memorable Taverna Dialiskari located in the Marmara harbor. 

Catch a fast boat at Chora Sfakion to visit Taverna Dialiskari

Catch a fast boat at Chora Sfakion to visit Taverna Dialiskari

Sniffing around the kitchen at Taverna Dialiskari I immediately ordered the fried lamb with homemade chips (french fries) and they did not disappoint, resulting in one of the best meals that we had in Crete with the sea air sharpening our appetites.

In between courses, you could literally hop in the sea – and many did – because the taverna is right on the water’s edge, so it feels off the grid and yet chic in the way this island often does.

Freshly made fried potatoes at Taverna Dialiskari are worth a trip

Freshly made fried potatoes at Taverna Dialiskari are worth a trip

It turns out that Crete really knows how to craft a truly unforgettable vacation, but so too does the wily National Tourism Offices of Greece who invited five other fabulous, flinty US travel writers along with me on this magical mystery tour to see what Greek island life is all about.

First-time visitors will notice the natural beauty of the island, which features endless miles of pristine coastline for bathing and sunbathing, olive groves and orange groves (almost anything you can plant flourishes here), and rugged mountain ranges or stylish fully catered seaside resorts. 

But the biggest revelation to me was the Cretan people. Warm and friendly like the Irish, they know how to inhabit the modern world whilst keeping faith with centuries of tradition and culture. No wonder I felt so at home.

Sunset over Chania, Crete

Sunset over Chania, Crete

Our next stop, Mila Mountain Retreat and Restaurant was a place of astonishments where sustainable dining in a mountain setting is the attraction. Freshness that only comes from locally sourced produce was the watchword here and you can also stay in one of their luxury outback digs for a back-to-nature visit.

It’s easy to see how myths about the gods who live in the mountains got started in Greece. Just spend 20 minutes under a leafy canopy overlooking the surrounding hills and you’ll feel the genius of the place under your feet. Looking about it really would not have surprised me to see – as the poet Cavafy once did – a god descend from those “most venerable” halls in the clouds. 

In all my travels I have only found this kind of immanence in Japan and Greece – alongside Ireland, of course – where the line dividing us from the otherworld is at its thinnest. No wonder I fell so hard for the place. 

Driving back to the hotel along a steep gorge our driver suddenly stopped and told us to step out. The view of the valley below was impressive from this height but what happened next was one of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever seen: an aerie of golden eagles soared about twenty feet over our heads, one after another, gliding effortlessly in the gentle updraft, their immense wings fully extended, each of them looking haughty and regal and huge. 

It was heart-stopping to see them glide above me one by one, and I counted twelve overpasses before I just gave myself up to the beauty of the experience. My heart was in my chest to be this close to such grace and beauty, it was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life I think; the memory of it will never leave me. It was worth the air ticket alone. 

Like Ireland, Crete has a revolutionary history, which we explored at the Eleftherios Venizelos Museum, the once home of a key leader of the Greek national liberation movement and a charismatic elder statesman of the early 20th century. The pride taken in his life and achievements is evident in the tour guides faces, no translation was needed (although the tour is given in English).

It was on then to the nearby Taverna Leventogiannis. Located in the historic village of Therisso in Chania, it offered a delicious, gourmet traditional Cretan banquet, serving up plate after plate of authentic Cretan recipes, appetizers, main courses and flowing raki. Another highlight of a trip already filled with them. 

Chania Archaeological Museum tells the story of Crete from its earliest inhabitants

Chania Archaeological Museum tells the story of Crete from its earliest inhabitants

The next day, we visited the Chania Archaeological Museum, a personal wonder of the trip for me (please don’t miss it if you visit). The museum tells the story of Crete from its earliest inhabitants with a focus and quiet scholarship that I found fascinating. The venue itself is an architectural triumph that will delight both scholars and tourists eager to delve a little deeper into the remarkable island they’re visiting.

Onward then to Gouverneto Monastery. Here, you descend a giant gorge to a hidden church carved into the cliff face. The sea stretches out blue in front of you as you descend and you can progress all the way down to the water’s edge if you wish to, passing all the wild goats that abound here with their strange otherwordly eyes. It’s a memorable spot that would appeal to the hardier visitor – early Christians made it a gathering place to evade capture and you’ll soon see why. 

(Irish tip: bring a hat everywhere you go in Greece or suffer the inevitable Irish sunburn that no sunscreen can prevent!)

At Vinolio Creta, we were invited to sample the olive and grapes that are at the heart of the company’s superb wine and olive oil products set in the grounds of an old Venetian monastery. Discerning gastronomes and wine aficionados will enjoy the excellent offerings and the history here, and the olive oil is delicious. 

But let’s catch our breaths for a moment. Consider, as I often did during this trip, that Greece gave the world democracy, the modern alphabet, the Olympic games, classical philosophy, western theatre, even maps – but they still wear their history and achievements rather lightly, never taking themselves too seriously, whilst making room for every pastime under the sun. That’s some trick. 

 Anoskeli Winery Olive Mill is a must experience on any Crete visit

Anoskeli Winery Olive Mill is a must experience on any Crete visit

Our next stop was the verdant Anoskeli Winery Olive Mill, a company on a mission to produce and deliver the world’s best extra virgin olive oil and wine from Crete in a sustainable manner. I was there for about ten minutes before I had to concede they have succeeded in both. Offering tastings to visitors, their olive oils have an intense and fruity flavor profile I adored.

Traveling on at the breakneck speed of a event packed press trip, where the pace only slowed when we were among the islanders, things became much more serene at Anoskeli Winery Olive Mill when we sampled the olive oils that seemed to have the summer still alive in them. 

On this trip, I discovered Cretan cooking is sophisticated but unpretentious, insisting on the primacy of fresh ingredients, most locally sourced and paired with their superb local wines. And everywhere we traveled we were offered feta so fresh it surpassed Italian burrata and mozzarella (that’s not a small boast). 

Welcome cocktail at the Nautilux Hotel are an event in themselves

Welcome cocktail at the Nautilux Hotel are an event in themselves

Next up came the two highlights of my Cretan trip. The Nautilux Hotel, a glamorous all-inclusive resort hotel in Rethymno that seems to have combined the words naughty and luxe to deliver on both counts. Think of a White Lotus setting with every possible luxury amenity (including breakfast, lunch and dinner) where all that’s left to do is relax. 

I adored the chic rooms and the airy lightness of the wider hotel, which is fun to walk around and which manages the design trick of being both substantial in size and intimate in feeling, you’ll probably want to book your next stay as you’re checking out.

That evening we all arrived at Agreco Farm, a classic taverna/restaurant and olive oil producing company overlooking the blue Aegean sea that highlights and exemplifies the traditional Cretan diet. 

A locally sourced and delicious Greek salt at Agreco Farm

A locally sourced and delicious Greek salt at Agreco Farm

Sitting down to one of the best meals I had not just in Crete but in my life, this was a banquet such as Lord Byron might have enjoyed on a fabled 18 century grand tour. If you only make one local dinner booking in wider Crete, make it here.

Rethymno is the name of the charming city on the north coast of Crete and in its old town a Venetian Harbor is filled with fishing boats and lined with atmospheric tavernas. Picture a Greek town that has remained markably preserved over centuries, yet that still offers fun nightlife options for a pacier crowd.

They serve sumptuous multiple course meals at Agreco Farm

They serve sumptuous multiple course meals at Agreco Farm

The Pepi Boutique Hotel in the old town combines discreet elegance with value and location. From suites to superior rooms the emphasis is on comfort and affordability. It’s an adults only hotel of 13 rooms, 3 Junior Suites and 2 Suites surrounded by a beautiful garden and a small outdoor swimming pool. 

We stopped after that to visit Giorgos Hatziparaskos, the Last Phyllo Master of Greece. He has richly earned the impressive moniker. Inside a simple Venetian house with high, white walls, this artisan has been working ultra-thin pastry by hand since the Second World War (he’s about 86 now). That’s a long apprenticeship so no wonder his pastry is divine. 

After these exertions under the sun, our group retired to Avli, a white linen table restaurant and hotel which boasts fine dining in the Cretan style. A standout moment in a trip already brimming with unforgettable meals and moments, the dishes they brought to our table were not just consistently flavorful but plated so beautifully that they often go viral on Instagram.

Already a world-renowned restaurant, Avli also offers ten luxurious suites, an enticing wine cellar and a traditional Cretan products shop. The watchwords are here are local and sustainably sourced and you’ll feel the care they take in every visit. 

Avli Hotel and Restaurant locally sources its fresh produce

Avli Hotel and Restaurant locally sources its fresh produce

Later that evening, we visited the 7 Seas or 7 Thalasses Restaurant and Hotel in Rethymno. Each dish that arrived surpassed the previous one in a truly romantic by-the-sea setting. On top of the great food was the great service, with a staff so welcoming and attentive that the night was a blur of fun and fine dining.

The next day we arrived at Plakias Resort, an all-inclusive luxury resort featuring multiple bars and restaurants – a total vacation spot. Beach chairs and sun umbrellas are provided and you can order a cocktail here at any time of day, which is very civilized. There are other gorgeous beaches located nearby so if you want maximum relaxation and low stress, this is the spot. You’ll probably return over and over. 

The path to 7 Thalasses Restaurant and Hotel

The path to 7 Thalasses Restaurant and Hotel

For me one of the most charming meals of the entire trip was served at Pastos Escape Traditional Taverna, in operation in the small town of the same name since 1933. Here Ms Maria as she is known serves course after course of feta, salads, olive oils, cheeses, wine, fried lamb, baked lamb, pilaf, fried potatoes, casseroles and kaltsounia and sfakiani pies, a reminder that the Cretan diet is not just healthy but gourmet.

On our last night we dined in the village of Meronas, a place continually inhabited since Minoan times that has long developed its own unique customs and traditions. Surrounded by the tall mountains associated with the old gods, it embraces its past and future by offering outstanding local fare at off the beaten path prices. (And do make a point of sampling the ice cold well water that flows clear off the mountain when you visit). 

Here’s what I discovered in Greece: Irish people have a cultural advantage on a trip here. The spirited chat of the old famers will remind you of home, you’ll correctly guess that the elderly ladies who run the local restaurants can cook and bake dishes to fully restore your five senses, you’ll feel the pull and wildness of the landscape all around you the same way we do at home, and you’ll be – in every sense – in your element. 

The only other truly useful thing to know is that the Greek word for Sláinte! is Yamas! Happy travels.



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Champions Cup: Marcus Smith stars as Harlequins thrash Cardiff, Exeter progress but Sale and Bristol lose


Harlequins’ Nick David in action against Cardiff

Harlequins took a giant stride towards progressing to the knockout stages of
the Champions Cup with a bonus-point victory over Cardiff in a thrilling game at
a sold-out Arms Park.

Cardiff competed fiercely in the first half hour but were then out-gunned by some exhilarating play from the visitors, who ran in eight tries in the 54-15 win.

Jack Walker, Will Evans, Andre Esterhuizen, Will Beard, Dillon Lewis, Fin Baxter, Tyrone Green and Marcus Smith all touched down for Quins.

England fly-half Smith converted seven of the tries in a personal points tally of 19.

Thomas Young scored two tries for Cardiff, with Tinus de Beer adding a penalty and a conversion.

Smith led out Quins on his 150th appearance for the club, but they were soon behind when De Beer kicked a fourth-minute penalty.

Early ferocity from Cardiff rattled their opponents and it resulted in a try for the Welsh region. Quins failed to deal with a well-judged cross-field kick from De Beer, with lock Seb Davies knocking the ball into the path of Young who raced 40 metres to the line.

Quins soon responded with a try from Walker after an unstoppable line-out drive, before Cardiff made two mistakes in quick succession to give the Londoners another attacking platform.

Willis Halaholo knocked on before De Beer lost substantial ground by kicking straight into touch. As a result, the visitors were able to win a penalty but they turned down a simple kick at goal in favour of more attacking options, however, it proved the wrong call.

The hosts suffered an injury blow when young full-back Cam Winnett was led off and failed an HIA, but they still led 8-7 at the end of a compelling first quarter.

Cardiff then produced a stunning second try. On the halfway line, they cleverly created for Harri Millard to make ground down the right flank before Tomos Williams was on hand to provide Young with his second try.

The English outfit reacted swiftly to score a try of equal merit. Quick hands and excellent ball-retention sucked in the defence leaving Esterhuizen with a 30-metre run-in.

The entertainment was now breathtaking as Quins looked in desperate trouble on their own line, but somehow Smith conjured up a gap to send Will Evans racing to near halfway. With men in support, Evans chose to kick as Tomos Williams was able to dash back and save the day.

However, Quins were not to be denied as a strong from Nick David set up a try for Evans before more incredible handling saw Beard just hold off a cover tackle from Mason Grady for the bonus point and a 28-15 half-time lead.

Within four minutes of the restart, Quins had another when Care gave Smith a walk-in try after the Cardiff defence was torn to shreds.

With Quins firmly in control, the action slowed but the visitors were still able to emphasise their superiority with late tries from front-rowers Lewis and Baxter before Green took his side past the 50-point mark.

Leinster and Exeter progress to knock-outs but costly defeats for Sale, Bristol

Leinster continued their 100 per cent start in the Champions Cup with a crushing victory over Stade Francais on Saturday.

Pool Four rivals Sale still have work to do to join them in the last 16, however, after going down to a bonus-point defeat against Stormers in South Africa.

Leinster were highly impressive as they ran in seven tries in an emphatic 43-7 win at the Aviva Stadium.

James Lowe began the rout after 17 minutes and Josh van der Flier and Dan Sheehan added further scores before the break.

Jordan Larmour and Caelan Doris then claimed two apiece after the break with Stade Francais limited to a late consolation from Joris Segonds.

Sale were edged out by four tries to three as they suffered a 31-24 loss in Cape Town.

Tries from Hacjivah Dayimani and Suleiman Hartzenberg gave Stormers an early advantage and, with Leolin Zas later scoring two, the hosts were able to stay ahead despite replies from Jonny Hill, Agustin Creevy and Sam Bedlow.

Bedlow was sin-binned in a dramatic ending but the Sharks clung on for their bonus point as Manie Libbok, who had earlier kicked 11 points, missed the resulting penalty.

Henry Slade’s late touchline conversion of Zack Wimbush’s try secured Exeter a 19-17 victory over Glasgow which sealed their place in the knockout stages.

The Chiefs could have lost in a dramatic end to the match, though, as Glasgow secured a five-metre scrum from the restart.

It was Exeter’s put-in but the ball ran loose for replacement Euan Ferrie to crash over but TMO replays showed he had broken from the scrum early and the try was disallowed.

Also in Pool Three, Munster boosted their hopes of reaching the next phase with a 29-18 triumph at Toulon.

The Irish province trailed 10-0 early on but recovered to lead 17-13 at the break and then powered on to their first victory in this season’s competition with tries from Tom Ahern and Calvin Nash.

Alex Nankivell and Simon Zebo had crossed in the first half in response to Duncan Paia’aua’s early score while Jack Crowley landed three conversions and a penalty.

In Pool One, Bristol‘s hopes of reaching the knockout stages were dealt a major setback as South African challengers the Bulls beat them 31-17 at Ashton Gate.

The west country club must now beat Connacht in Galway to have even an outside chance of making the last 16, but they are still likely to be reliant on results elsewhere.

Bristol Bears' Gabriel Ibitoye (left) is tackled by Vodacom Bulls' Khutha Mchunu

Bristol Bears’ Gabriel Ibitoye (left) is tackled by Vodacom Bulls’ Khutha Mchunu

Bristol were overpowered by a physical, unrelenting Bulls team, conceding tries to wing Sergeal Petersen, prop Khutha Mchunu, flanker Elrigh Louw and hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels, with fly-half Johan Goosen kicking three conversions and a penalty, and centre David Kriel landing one conversion.

Bulls’ bonus-point triumph owed everything to their overwhelming scrummaging superiority, with Bristol restricted to tries from scrum-half Kieran Marmion, wing Gabriel Ibitoye and number eight Magnus Bradbury, plus one AJ MacGinty conversion.

The Gallagher Premiership side could have no complaints, while the Bulls underlined credentials as a force in the 24-team competition.

Connacht slipped to their third successive defeat as they were beaten 34-20 in their Pool One encounter at Lyon.

Sean Jansen stunned the hosts with an early try but the French side hit back through Thaakir Abrahams and Alexandre Tchaptchet.

Cian Prendergast and Tadgh McElroy touched down to keep Connacht in contention but, with 12 points from the boot of Paddy Jackson and further tries from Mickael Guillard and Abrahams, Lyon had enough.

Ulster‘s hopes of going through remain in the balance after they were overpowered 48-24 by Pool Two leaders Toulouse.

Antoine Dupont was in inspired form, scoring two of his side’s seven tries and having a hand in a number of others as the French side secured their spot in the last 16.

Peato Mauvaka also touched down twice after Matthis Lebel had opened the scoring. Alexandre Roumat added another in a dominant first hour.

Tom Stewart, Will Addison and Nick Timoney restored some respectability to the scoreline for Ulster but Emmanuel Meafou put the seal on Toulouse’s performance.Thomas Ramos weighed in with 11 points.



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Rugby World Cup 2023 team guides: Pool D – England, Argentina, Japan, Samoa, Chile


England, Argentina and Japan are all in Rugby World Cup 2023’s Pool D

We look at everything you need to know from Rugby World Cup Pool D, as 2003 champions England, Argentina, Japan, Samoa and Chile clash…

Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool D fixtures

  • Saturday September 9: England vs Argentina (8pm, Marseille)
  • Sunday September 10: Japan vs Chile (12pm, Toulouse)
  • Saturday September 16: Samoa vs Chile (2pm, Bordeaux)
  • Sunday September 17: England vs Japan (8pm, Nice)
  • Friday September 22: Argentina vs Samoa (4.45pm, Saint-Etienne)
  • Saturday September 23: England vs Chile (4.45pm, Lille)
  • Thursday September 28: Japan vs Samoa (8pm, Toulouse)
  • Saturday September 30: Argentina vs Chile (2pm, Nantes)
  • Saturday October 7: England vs Samoa (14.45pm, Lille)
  • Sunday October 8: Japan vs Argentina (12pm, Nantes)

England’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Quarter-finals

1991: Runners-up

1995: Fourth place

1999: Quarter-finals

2003: Champions

2007: Runners-up

2011: Quarter-finals

2015: Pool Stages

2019: Runners-up

Key player

Maro Itoje. When England reached the Rugby World Cup final in 2019, second row Itoje was a player playing out of his skin, excelling at each and every aspect of Test rugby. His form has been patchy since, but with selection question marks all around Steve Borthwick’s side, if Itoje can reach his top levels, he could lead England far.

Maro Itoje was a pivotal performer in England's run to the 2019 World Cup final, and will be seeking to return to those levels

Maro Itoje was a pivotal performer in England’s run to the 2019 World Cup final, and will be seeking to return to those levels

Head coach

Steve Borthwick. England head coach since December 2022, Borthwick was also previously England forwards coach under Eddie Jones between 2016-2020, before coaching Leicester Tigers as head coach between 2020-2022, winning the 2021 Premiership title.

The 43-year-old has had just one Six Nations campaign to date, which saw no improvement on Jones’ displays as they finished fourth after defeats to Scotland, France and Ireland. They also suffered World Cup warm-up defeats to Wales and Ireland.

Steve Borthwick took over from Eddie Jones as England head coach, but has not started well in the role

Steve Borthwick took over from Eddie Jones as England head coach, but has not started well in the role

England’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (19): Dan Cole, Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Bevan Rodd, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Theo Dan, Jamie George, Jack Walker, Ollie Chessum, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, George Martin, Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Lewis Ludlam, David Ribbans, Billy Vunipola, Jack Willis.

Backs (14): Danny Care, Alex Mitchell, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell (c), George Ford, Marcus Smith, Elliot Daly, Ollie Lawrence, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Henry Arundell, Max Malins, Freddie Steward.

Argentina’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Pool Stages

1991: Pool Stages

1995: Pool Stages

1999: Quarter-finals

2003: Pool Stages

2007: Third place

2011: Quarter-finals

2015: Fourth place

2019: Pool Stages

Key player

Julian Montoya. The Argentina skipper is a crucial leader for this Pumas squad, and pivotal to their scrum, lineout and maul efforts as a hooker. For Argentina to be a threat in this World Cup, their set-piece and discipline needs to be able to hold up and compete.

Leicester Tigers hooker Julian Montoya is Argentina's current captain

Leicester Tigers hooker Julian Montoya is Argentina’s current captain

Head coach

Michael Cheika. Argentina head coach since March 2022, Australian Cheika – Wallabies head coach between 2014 and 2019 – will depart the role after the World Cup, with Felipe Contepomi taking over.

Cheika has brought a noticeable improvement to Pumas displays, leading Argentina to a 2-1 series win over Scotland in July 2022, in addition to victories over Australia home and away, the All Blacks on Kiwi soil and Pool D opponents England at Twickenham.

Former Australia head coach Michael Cheika has improved the Pumas, overseeing wins vs New Zealand, Australia, England and Scotland

Former Australia head coach Michael Cheika has improved the Pumas, overseeing wins vs New Zealand, Australia, England and Scotland

Argentina’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Francisco Gómez Kodela, Joel Sclavi, Thomas Gallo, Eduardo Bello, Julián Montoya (c), Agustín Creevy, Ignacio Ruiz, Matías Alemanno, Tomás Lavanini, Guido Petti, Facundo Isa, Pablo Matera, Juan Martín González, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Pedro Rubiolo.

Backs (15): Gonzalo Bertranou, Tomás Cubelli, Lautaro Bazán Vélez, Santiago Carreras, Nicolás Sánchez, Santiago Chocobares, Lucio Cinti, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Matías Moroni, Emiliano Boffelli, Mateo Carreras, Rodrigo Isgró, Juan Cruz Mallía, Martín Bogado, Juan Imhoff.

Japan’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Pool Stages

1991: Pool Stages

1995: Pool Stages

1999: Pool Stages

2003: Pool Stages

2007: Pool Stages

2011: Pool Stages

2015: Pool Stages

2019: Quarter-finals

Key player

Kazuki Himeno. Just as Michael Leitch was an outstanding back-row forward and leader for Japan in 2015 and 2019, in 2023 the star man is No 8 Himeno. The 29-year-old’s performances have been so strong he spent a season playing for the Highlanders in New Zealand in Super Rugby, and is a superb carrier of the ball and breakdown operator.

Japan back-row Kazuki Himeno is a superbly talented player

Japan back-row Kazuki Himeno is a superbly talented player

Head coach

Jamie Joseph. Japan head coach since 2016, New Zealander Joseph will be departing after the World Cup in France. He led the Brave Blossoms to stunning World Cup victories over Ireland and Scotland as hosts in 2019 and to a historic quarter-final place, where they suffered defeat to eventual winners South Africa.

Jamie Joseph oversaw a stunning 2019 World Cup campaign for Japan on home soil, but they have largely struggled since

Jamie Joseph oversaw a stunning 2019 World Cup campaign for Japan on home soil, but they have largely struggled since

Japan’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Keita Inagaki, Craig Millar, Sione Halasili, Koo Ji-won, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Asaeli Ai Valu, Shota Horie, Atsushi Sakate, Kosuke Horikoshi, Jack Cornelsen, Warner Dearns, Uwe Helu, Amanaki Saumaki, Pieter Labuschagne, Shota Fukui, Kazuki Himeno, Michael Leitch, Ben Gunter

Backs (15): Naoto Saito, Yutaka Nagare, Kenta Fukuda, Lee Seung-sin, Rikiya Matsuda, Jumpei Ogura, Ryoto Nakamura, Tomoki Osada, Shogo Nakano, Dylan Riley, Siosaia Fifita, Semisi Masirewa, Jone Naikabula, Lomano Lemeki, Kotaro Matsushima.

Samoa’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Not invited

1991: Quarter-finals

1995: Quarter-finals

1999: Quarter-final playoffs

2003: Pool Stages

2007: Pool Stages

2011: Pool Stages

2015: Pool Stages

2019: Pool Stages

Key player

Steve Luatua/UJ Seuteni. We’ve split Samoa’s key player into two, an outstanding forward and an outstanding back. World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, which mean players who do not represent a nation for a three-year period can return to play for the country of their birth or that of a parent/grandparent, has seen a number of talented players from the Pacific islands return to squads.

Flanker Luatua picked up 15 All Blacks caps until 2016, and is a fabulous operator who could grace any forward pack, while La Rochelle’s European champion Seuteni is one of the best centres in the world.

Samoan centre UJ Seuteni was outstanding as La Rochelle beat Leinster in Dublin to win the 2023 European Cup

Samoan centre UJ Seuteni was outstanding as La Rochelle beat Leinster in Dublin to win the 2023 European Cup

Head coach

Seilala Mapusua. Samoa head coach since August 2020, Mapusua picked up 26 Test caps as a centre for Samoa between 2006 and 2013.

It has been some time since Samoa have picked up a marquee victory in Test rugby, but with some of the players now available to Mapusua via World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, and Pool D not being a toughest group by any means, a quarter-final spot is not beyond the realms or aims.

Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua picked up 26 Test caps as a centre for Samoa between 2006 and 2013

Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua picked up 26 Test caps as a centre for Samoa between 2006 and 2013

Samoa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Michael Alaalatoa (co-c), Paul Alo-Emile, Charlie Faumuina, Jordan Lay, Seilala Lam, Sama Malolo, Luteru Tolai, Brian Alainuuese, Theo McFarland, Sam Slade, Chris Vui (co-c), Sootala Faasoo, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua, Alamanda Motuga, Taleni Seu, Jordan Taufua.

Backs (14): Ere Enari, Melani Matavao, Jonathan Taumateine, Christian Leali’ifano, Lima Sopoaga, Alai D’Angelo Leuila, Tumua Manu, Duncan Paiaaua, UJ Seuteni, Nigel Ah Wong, Ed Fidow, Neria Fomai, Benjamin Lam, Danny Toala.

Chile’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Not invited

1991: Did not enter

1995: Did not qualify

1999: Did not qualify

2003: Did not qualify

2007: Did not qualify

2011: Did not qualify

2015: Did not qualify

2019: Did not qualify

Key player

Martin Sigren. The skipper is one of only three players in the squad who plays outside of Chile, with the 27-year-old back-row currently a Doncaster Knights player. The 26-year-old has spoken about his nation’s ‘remarkable qualification’ and will lead the side with enormous passion.

Doncaster Knights back-row Martin Sigren will captain Chile in their maiden Rugby World Cup

Doncaster Knights back-row Martin Sigren will captain Chile in their maiden Rugby World Cup

Head coach

Pablo Lemoine. Chile head coach since 2018, Lemoine picked up 48 caps for Uruguay as a prop between 1996 and 2010, and leads Chile into their first ever Rugby World Cup after beating Canada (54-46 on aggregate) and then the USA (52-51 on aggregate) in qualifiers.

Former Uruguay prop Pablo Lemoine has been head coach of Chile since 2018, as they beat Canada and the USA to qualify

Former Uruguay prop Pablo Lemoine has been head coach of Chile since 2018, as they beat Canada and the USA to qualify

Chile’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (17): Javier Carrasco, Salvador Lues, Matías Dittus, Iñaki Gurruchaga, Esteban Inostroza, Augusto Bohme, Tomás Dussaillant, Diego Escobar, Javier Eissmann, Pablo Huete, Santiago Pedrero, Augusto Sarmiento, Alfonso Escobar, Raimundo Martínez, Clemente Saavedra, Martín Sigren (c), Ignacio Silva.

Backs (13): Lukas Carvallo, Marcelo Torrealba, Benjamín Videla, Rodrigo Fernández, Santiago Videla, Pablo Casas, Matías Garafulic, José Ignacio Larenas, Domingo Saavedra, Franco Velarde, Nicolás Garafulic, Iñaki Ayarza, Francisco Urroz.



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Ireland vs England: Teams and talking points ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up Test in Dublin


Ireland captain James Ryan admits to some nerves for the team ahead of the match against England

James Ryan admitted lack of competitive rugby in recent months for many of the Ireland team means there will be nerves for the hosts going into Saturday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up Test against England in Dublin.

It is a second preparatory international for world’s No 1-ranked team, who are regarded as one of the favourites to triumph at this year’s global gathering on the back of completing the Grand Slam in year’s Six Nations, but spluttered past Italy with a largely second-string selection a fortnight ago.

Since then, Andy Farrell’s squad have been on a week-long training camp in Portugal as they fine-tune themselves for next month’s tournament in France and skipper Ryan knows there is expectation on Ireland as they face an England side aiming to shake off two patchy performances against Wales.

“I think there’s a bit of nerves heading into this game,” Ryan, who deputises as captain with Jonny Sexton suspended, said.

“It’s the first game for a lot of us of this summer and playing England at home, there’s always a little bit of pressure. The lads are keen to make a statement with selection and everything coming up.

“This has never been a warm-up game for us. It’s been very much a Test match, that’s the way we’ve prepared for this game all week. It’s obviously a lot of the guys’ first appearance of the summer, so it’s going to be tough but we’re not going to make any excuses.”

England head to Dublin on the back of a 19-17 win over Wales at Twickenham, which saw them rebound from the defeat in Cardiff the week before but still left Steve Borthwick’s side facing plenty of questions about the potency of their attacking game.

George Ford secured England's win over Wales at Twickenham

George Ford secured England’s win over Wales at Twickenham

George Ford, who kicked the winning points for England against Wales and starts at fly-half for the visitors on Saturday, acknowledged there are improvements to be made but insists they are working on getting it right ahead of their tournament-opener against Argentina on September 9 in Marseille.

“My experience is that of all departments of the game, it takes the longest to get the attack functioning,” Ford said. “We want to speed it up, we want to get there as quickly as possible.

“We know there’s an urgency that we need to start attacking better and causing problems and scoring tries – we understand that.

“The main thing is how we can be more potent when we’ve got the ball, how we can get the outside backs in space with the ball to create damage and cause chaos.”

An unfamiliar-looking Ireland team stuttered past Italy in their World Cup warm-up match two weeks ago

An unfamiliar-looking Ireland team stuttered past Italy in their World Cup warm-up match two weeks ago

Ryan believes Ireland have their own issues in attack to iron out as well after head coach Farrell labelled their 33-17 victory over Italy in Dublin on August 5 “clunky”.

“We must have been distracted a little bit by something,” Ryan said, reflecting on that game. “We were a little bit off. I just thought our attack wasn’t where it needed to be, it wasn’t as cohesive or as fluid as it usually is.

“In fairness, they put us under a lot of pressure defensively. They like to get off the line quickly and be aggressive in their defence, so maybe we got a little bit spooked by that at times and we weren’t as calm maybe and accurate as we needed to be off the back of it.

“There were a few lessons in the game and we need to be better because England have a couple of games now under their belt and they will definitely be looking at this fixture as one which is as big for us as it is for them.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has criticised the

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has criticised the “circus” surrounding his son Owen, with the England captain’s World Cup participation in doubt.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has criticised the “circus” surrounding his son Owen, with the England captain’s World Cup participation in doubt.

The build-up to this match has been overshadowed by the controversy around England captain Owen Farrell’s red card for a dangerous tackle on Taine Basham which was subsequently not upheld by an independent disciplinary panel.

Farrell still faces a wait to see if he will be able to take part in the World Cup though after global governing body World Rugby chose to appeal the panel’s decision and he has been withdrawn from the England squad for Saturday’s match.

Courtney Lawes will instead skipper the side and the flanker feels there are wider disciplinary issues England need to address after Henry Arundell, Freddie Steward and Ellis Genge were all sin-binned against Wales last week as well.

“We had a few silly cards that you really don’t want to get in Test match rugby,” Lawes said. “We’ve really been on the discipline from day one in camp, talking about how important it is at the World Cup.

Courtney Lawes says England have a talented squad that is capable of proving their critics wrong at the World Cup.

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Courtney Lawes says England have a talented squad that is capable of proving their critics wrong at the World Cup.

Courtney Lawes says England have a talented squad that is capable of proving their critics wrong at the World Cup.

“It was disappointing to get so many cards and give away so many penalties last week. It’s something we’re constantly working on and hammering down.

“We can’t afford those kinds of mistakes against Ireland. You’re not going to go a season without a card, but to the best of your ability you’ve got to be smart and streetwise with your actions.

“Even in those split seconds you’ve got to have a cool head and hopefully make the right decisions at the right time.”

Teams for Ireland vs England (5.30pm)

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan (captain), 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Cian Prendergast.

Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Finlay Bealham,19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Keith Earls.

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 David Ribbans, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 7 Ben Earl, 8 Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ollie Chessum, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Danny Care, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ollie Lawrence.



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Wales 20-9 England: Gareth Davies and George North help hosts to World Cup warm-up victory in Leigh Halfpenny’s 100th game

Marc Bazeley

@MarcBazeley

Gareth Davies and George North both scored tries, while Leigh Halfpenny kicked two goals and two penalties; Marcus Smith kicked England’s points; England head coach Steve Borthwick names his squad for the World Cup on Monday, with the sides clashing again at Twickenham next Saturday

Last Updated: 05/08/23 8:59pm


Gareth Davies goes over for Wales’ first try against England

Second-half tries from Gareth Davies and George North saw Wales kick off their Rugby World Cup preparations with a 20-9 victory over an out-of-sorts England at the Principality Stadium.

It was a battle of the kickers in the first 40 minutes, with three successful penalties from the boot of Marcus Smith compared to two from Wales’ Test centurion Leigh Halfpenny, giving the visitors a 9-6 lead at half-time.

But the hosts seized the initiative eight minutes into the second half when Gareth Davies was on hand to finish for a try and they surged further in front thanks to George North going over from close range just before the hour mark, with Halfpenny converting both.

Louis Rees-Zammit was unfortunate not to add a third try for the hosts before full-time when he was adjudged to have knocked on after a TMO review, but that did not take the shine off the result or the performance from Warren Gatland’s new-look team.

Inexperience no barrier as Wales youngsters seize opportunity

Halfpenny may have been making his 100th Test appearance for Wales, but the relative inexperience of the rest of Gatland’s team was shown by the fact the only other members of the starting XV with more than 50 caps were North and scrum-half Davies.

They were dealt an early blow too when hooker Ryan Elias was forced off six minutes in with a suspected hamstring injury, which will be of particular concern to Gatland given Ken Owens has already been ruled out of the World Cup due to a back problem.

Nevertheless, several of those players with only a handful of caps to their name came to the fore, with lively fly-half Sam Costelow, making his first Test start, and skipper in only his 10th appearance Jac Morgan playing key roles in the first try of the game.

Wales: Tries – Davies, North; Conversions – Halfpenny (2); Goals – Halfpenny (2).

England: Goals – Smith (3).

Having kept in touch with England thanks to Halfpenny’s goals in the first half, Wales took a 48th-minute lead after 22-year-old Costelow put a deft attacking kick to the right wing for Aaron Wainwright. The No 8 then sent fellow back-row Morgan racing away, who in turn fed support-runner Davies to finish.

Then it was the turn of the big guns to make their mark, with Dan Biggar – off the bench in place of Costelow – putting in a testing grubber kick which set in motion an attack finished by North on 59 minutes after he stepped a defender to create space and ghost over from close range.

Exciting winger Rees-Zammit, still only 22 but with 26 international caps already, was unfortunate not to add his 10th Test try when he chased down his own chip kick, knocking on while trying to ground the ball. Nevertheless, it was still a dominant display from Wales and a proud day for the 23-year-old Morgan, who was named player of the match as well.

Disjointed showing leaves England with plenty of questions

For England, meanwhile, the intrigue beforehand had been as to how Harlequins club-mates Smith and Danny Care would perform alongside each other in the halves, although in the 49 minutes they were on the field together there was not much to show for their partnership.

George North dives in for Wales' second try against England

George North dives in for Wales’ second try against England

Care’s kicking game was solid and his determination to get quick ball from the ruck encouraging, yet he was unable to make any of his trademark sniping runs before being replaced by Jack van Poortvliet, while in the first half Smith was always looking to run and put in some good kicks along with booting three penalties to put the hosts in front.

England’s best chance for a try arguably came when the fly-half and two other Quins team-mates, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant, linked up in the 29th minute for an attack which opened Wales up. However, Max Mallins was unable to finish and Wales regathered the ball after a wayward offload.

Handling errors were a concerningly recurring theme for England in the match and they ended with those in double figures by full-time, ceding scrum dominance and the foothold they had given themselves in the first half by gaining more metres and dominating the territory.

What they said

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, speaking to Amazon Prime:

“I was a little bit apprehensive this morning because I wasn’t quite sure how things were going to go. I know the players have been working hard.

“I was looking for a performance and it was a good start today. It was a performance I was looking for and I thought the guys out there gave a performance today.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick, speaking to Amazon Prime:

“I thought in the first half we created lots of opportunities, but we turned over too much ball in the opposite 22 and you can’t do that in Test rugby. There are areas for improvement, but I thought the positive was how many entries we got into the opposition scoring zone.

“This game is one piece of information to help build a full picture [for selecting England’s World Cup squad], and I’ll make the decision in the next 24 hours.”

England did look the better side in the opening period, their sloppiness in possession aside, but as Wales stepped up their intensity in the second half, the visitors inexplicably dropped off.

“Credit to Wales in that 50-65 minute period, they were very, very good,” Borthwick said.

“Every one of these experiences will be positive for us as we build over the next few weeks to the World Cup.”

What’s next?

Wales and England do it all again on Saturday August 12 when they reconvene at Twickenham for the second Rugby World Cup warm-up clash against each other. First, though, England’s players face a nervous wait to see who will make Steve Borthwick’s 33-player squad for the global gathering when it is announced on Monday.



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Marcus Smith: Can fly-half grasp England World Cup audition against Wales on Saturday?

England name their 33-man World Cup squad on Monday, with head coach Steve Borthwick expected to include Marcus Smith among three fly-halves for the tournament; Saturday’s game against Wales is the 24-year-old’s first start since England’s record 53-10 loss to France at Twickenham in March

Last Updated: 04/08/23 1:10pm


Marcus Smith will start for England on Saturday for the first time since a humbling home defeat to France in the Six Nations

Marcus Smith is determined to make the most of his starting opportunity against Wales on Saturday as he looks to cement a spot in England’s 33-man Rugby World Cup squad.

Smith – originally seen as the most likely out of Owen Farrell, George Ford and himself to miss out – is expected to be named in England’s squad announcement on Monday, with head coach Steve Borthwick indicating he intends to take three fly-halves to France for the tournament which starts on September 8.

The 24-year-old Smith, who possesses an “incredible skill set” according to Borthwick, will make his first start for England on Saturday since featuring in the humiliating record 53-10 loss to France at Twickenham in the 2023 Six Nations earlier this year.

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“Every time you get an opportunity to play for England, you’ve got to show the best of yourself because you know how competitive it is to even be in this building, let alone play,” Smith told Sky Sports.

“With that comes a responsibility that we’ve got to deliver this weekend. If and when we do, fingers crossed for [the squad announcement] Monday.

“I don’t want to look too far forward. I’m very excited for the weekend, [Cardiff] it’s a special place to play and a big Test match against Wales – there’s nothing that comes bigger, especially in a World Cup year.”

England suffered a record 53-10 home loss at Twickenham to France in the Six Nations earlier this year

England suffered a record 53-10 home loss at Twickenham to France in the Six Nations earlier this year

Smith added to reporters: “France was a long time ago now and I’ve played a lot of rugby since then.

“It was a tough afternoon and I have learnt a lot of lessons. It has definitely put me in a much better position as a person and on the field as well as a player.

“I would not say I want to rectify it, but I am a very competitive person.”

Borthwick hails Smith’s ‘incredible skill set’

Borthwick hinted at Smith’s potential inclusion in his World Cup squad in Thursday’s press conference, saying: “Right now I have got a pretty clear framework.

“In those key positions you need to have depth, three players who can play in that position.”

Steve Borthwick has called on Marcus Smith and Harlequins team-mate Danny Care to make the most of their on-pitch partnership when they face Wales for England on Saturday.

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Steve Borthwick has called on Marcus Smith and Harlequins team-mate Danny Care to make the most of their on-pitch partnership when they face Wales for England on Saturday.

Steve Borthwick has called on Marcus Smith and Harlequins team-mate Danny Care to make the most of their on-pitch partnership when they face Wales for England on Saturday.

The England head coach added: “I rate Marcus exceptionally highly. He has an incredible skill set and an ability to find space. He recognises when there are defenders that he can pick off.

“He can either pull them out of the line and put other people through space or find space himself. I’ve been hugely impressed with Marcus throughout this camp but also in all my interactions with him.

“He’s a young man who has already achieved a lot in the game, but he’s got even more exciting things to achieve in the future.”

Borthwick also told Sky Sports that he is keen for his players to grasp their final chance to push their case for selection against Wales on Saturday, even if it doesn’t result in them making the initial 33-man group.

“I want to see them bring all of their talent, that they’ve got so much of, onto the pitch on Saturday night,” he said. “I’ve picked these players because of what strengths they have and what they can bring.

“There’s a number of places to be absolutely confirmed but I’m also well aware that over these next weeks before the tournament starts that things change. There are always bumps and bruises – there are players not named on Monday that could well feature within the tournament itself. There’s always opportunities.”

Ellis Genge will captain England against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday

Ellis Genge will captain England against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday

Danny Care joins Smith at half-back for the visit to Cardiff, while Ellis Genge captains an otherwise inexperienced side littered with fringe World Cup contenders.

“It’s the ultimate, captaining your country,” Genge said. “It fills me with joy and pride. And I get that from the messages from my family.”

Watch New Zealand vs Australia live on Sky Sports

England’s clash with Wales isn’t the only international being played out on Saturday, with Scotland hosting France and Ireland facing Italy among the northern hemisphere sides.

From the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia will face off in the early hours of Saturday morning – live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 3.30am.

Tate McDermott will lead Australia out for the first time in the second Test against New Zealand on Saturday

Tate McDermott will lead Australia out for the first time in the second Test against New Zealand on Saturday

Australia will have a new captain and the All Blacks will field a new-look line-up when they meet in Dunedin in the second Bledisloe Cup Test.

Scrum-half Tate McDermott has been named to lead the Wallabies four months after he was left to consider his future when left out of coach Eddie Jones’ first squad of the season.

McDermott is the fourth captain the Wallabies have used in as many matches this season after Michael Hooper, James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa.

Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne.

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne.

Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne.

His elevation is due to Hooper’s continuing recovery from a calf injury and Alaalatoa’s Achilles tendon injury which saw him carried from the field in last weekend’s 38-7 first Test defeat to the All Blacks, seeing them retain the Bledisloe Cup for the 21st straight year.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has made 10 changes to his starting 15 for the second Test, handing debuts to back-rower Samipeni Finau and winger Shaun Stevenson.

Also live on Sky Sports Action on Saturday is Argentina’s clash with South Africa, with kick-off in Buenos Aires at 8.10pm UK time.



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“Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical” hits New York City

No one in Belfast was thinking about the sugary pop songs of the Beach Boys in the 1970s when the Troubles were at their height. Instead, people were trying to make it home without being shot or blown up by the various factions and the seemingly never-ending war.

Well, one person actually was thinking about the Beach Boys, even in the darkest days of that conflict it turns out. Step forward Terri Hooley, anarchist and free spirit who had no time for sectarianism, bombs, or bad vibes.

Hooley was the kind of holy madman who would open a record shop in the famed Bomb Alley of Victoria Street in Belfast, a byword for crisis and chaos. Where others were busy running for the hills Hooley was lining up rock records, convinced that if he built it the public would come.

In “Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical,” now playing through July 16 at the Irish Arts Center, Hooley’s ‘never say die’ story is recounted in song, music, and dance in a show that asks you to appreciate the bright light that trailblazers can shine in the darkest of days.

Don’t imagine that his efforts made him friends everywhere he went, though. Hooley was first wondered at, but then he was emphatically resisted. To paraphrase Madonna, ‘music makes the people come together,’ and there were a lot of people back then – as indeed there are still now – who were determined to prevent peace and love from ever happening in Belfast. 

Hooley, as the show reminds us, was first targeted by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, then by loyalist gangs, then by Neo-Nazis, all of them hell-bent on clipping his wings.

“Well, if I’m gonna stay here and they’re gonna kill me, they might as well kill me doing something I love,” he says at one point in the new show, demonstrating just how deeply he objected to the sectarian, sour society that he refused to be reduced to.

“Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical” at The Irish Arts Center.

But let’s take a moment to acknowledge the sheer courage and conviction it took to be that man, at that moment, insisting on the power of rock and roll to take you out of your diminished circumstances and then out of yourself and change the world.

Part of it was that he couldn’t help himself, “Good Vibrations” shows us. Hooley had the funk and initially, that was all there was to it. From Hank Willams to Van Morrison to The Shangri-Las, his obsession was music and if the society didn’t fit to accommodate him, then society itself would have to change.

The music that powers this musical is already well known, from the aforementioned groups to local acts like The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, so it helps that the tracks are so good they’re like bookmarks in culture.

In fact, I would say Teenage Kicks is a high water mark in rock history, and Alternative Ulster is one of the most potent expressions of idealistic youth pushing back against faithless age that has ever been written.

There’s no question these punk rock songs are among the greatest ever recorded, but at the preview I attended I started to wonder if Hooely’s story, inspirational as is it, has the legs to carry it all the way to Broadway? 

“Good Vibrations” focuses almost exclusively on the legendary real-life Belfast man, his life and times, his strengths and weaknesses, and his determination to let the world know that world-class rock music was being written right at home.

“Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical” at The Irish Arts Center.

But I often found myself wanting to get back to the music and the people who had written it. Fergal Sharkey and his bandmates make a tantalizingly brief appearance, considering their importance to this story and to rock. Stiff Little Fingers and The Outcasts and Rudi are also here and gone before you can say who’s yer wan?

Perhaps it’s a case of Belfast celebrating one of its own first and foremost, and whilst that’s understandable, it’s really that music and the bands that have the name recognition here in the States. So if you come for the latter, the show can be a slightly frustrating experience.

Hooley is a saintly figure in so many ways, but he is far from a saint. He leaves his wife on the night his daughter is born to attend and go backstage after a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert. That’s the kind of behavior that makes his wife Ruth (played with wonderful poignancy by Jayne Wisener) finally understand that the real love of his life is someone else.

“Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical” at The Irish Arts Center.

As the lead, Glen Wallace takes an episodic script and fills it with great feeling and fun, in an all-electric performance worthy of his character. He lets us see Hooley in full, warts and all. 

But Americans in particular will have a hard time understanding why Hooley repeatedly turns down easy money, success, fame, and all the usual rock and roll trappings in favor of one glorious night in the Ulster Hall when the bands he represents turn the Troubles and their attendant misery upside down. 

He was never in it for the cash, “Good Vibrations” reminds us. Instead, here’s a real-life radical whose interest is culture, not commerce. For Hooley, what really matters is social impact and inspiration and the music that results from it. It’s the whole story for him, not just a part.

In one sense, Hooley may have been more punk rock than the rockers he represented, but as a reviewer, I found myself wanting to know more about the bands and singers on the other side of that idealism. We see a little bit of their frustration but the bigger picture is gently canonizing this man and so the scenes never linger.

“Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical” at The Irish Arts Center.

The direction by Des Kennedy keeps things moving but sometimes the blocking is fairly chaotic, I suppose befitting the times and the characters. Less charitably though things can get a little crowded onstage and we can lose the point or purpose of the next big musical ensemble even as it’s happening.

There’s no doubt that Hooley did something remarkable in a terrible time. In fact, he was one of the most incendiary devices that the Troubles ever saw. Wallace plays him pitch perfectly as a man more sinned against than sinning, and that seems true, although we do see an insensitive side and a side that you want to violently shake as he gives away gold for pennies in so many areas of his life.

But it’s not the man but the spirit of Belfast that really raises the roof in “Good Vibrations.” That’s a collective effort and at its best, this musical has the power to get you jumping to your feet in celebration of these matchless tunes. Here is life, it’s not insult and hatred, it’s music and singing and celebration, and it’s all ours even in the darkest times, this high rocking show says.

“Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical” is playing through July 16 at The Irish Arts Center.



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Fintan O’Toole on his bestselling book and the transformation of Ireland

It’s possible over the course of just one lifetime to see the world you’ve grown up in and all of its certainties stood on their head. That happened to the generation that grew up in the 1960s in Ireland in a social climate that’s now as lost as Atlantis. 

In “We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland,” journalist Fintan O’Toole has taken a flinty-eyed and often funny look at the transformation of our nation from one time conservative theocracy to its first in the world vote for equal marriage.

Last week, he spoke to journalists in New York City about its unexpected bestseller success in America and the lessons it carries.

“We Don’t Know Ourselves” by Fintan O’Toole. (Liveright Publishers)

In his look at the changes that have marked our transformation from paranoid post-colonial theocracy to progressive European trailblazer, O’Toole has lived the changes he writes about.

Beginning his talk to a gathering of invited New York Irish journalists on April 24, O’Toole spoke the two words that haunted his childhood and the childhoods of many around him: Letterfrack and Daingean.

These were the names of the two most feared Industrial Schools in Ireland, the ones that “bad boys” were sent to for terrible crimes like stealing a loaf of bread.

Between the years 1940 to 1970, 147 children reportedly died in Letterfrack in Connemara while in the “care” of the Christian Brothers. There was evidence of acute physical and sexual abuse there going back to the 1930s. 

In Daingean, a similar reign of terror prevailed, with flogging and other physical abuse creating an atmosphere of horror that has haunted many who passed through it for life. 

“I wondered how did I know those two words?” he told the journalists. “I don’t remember anyone saying Letterfrack or Daingean to me very often but they were everywhere – and yet nowhere.

“When Mary Raftery – who is probably the greatest journalist of our times – did three documentary films about the industrial schools in 1999 called ‘States Of Fear,’ I remember everyone was shocked and appalled. Yet everyone knew.”

That weird cognitive dissonance, that ability to hold two conflicting pieces of information at once, to know and not know, was the origin of his best-selling book. And the study was not simply academic, it was part of his own family life, he says.

“My father had a broken skull and we have different stories about how he got it.

“It was only quite late on that I got the real story, which was that his stepfather had thrown him down the stairs. He was a brute and so the question was, why did his mother – my grandmother – stay with him?

“And the answer was she married him because it was the only way to keep the kids out of the industrial schools. And she knew it was worse, you know, that the worst thing was having your kids being taken into these institutions.

“That’s a very dark way of talking about this sort of doubleness, where lots of people were highly aware of the way that parts of Irish society worked. But we had this extraordinary capacity not to recognize it.”

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In the decade of his birth, the country was floundering. “There were only two countries in Europe that lost population in the 1950s,” O’Toole said. “One was East Germany and the other one was Ireland. The population was just leaving, young people were leaving in droves.

“And they were leaving to go back to the old colonial oppressor. They were choosing to live in England. All my father’s family, his siblings were in England, all my cousins were living in Birmingham and London.”

‘Island for lease, current owners leaving,’ ran a poignant cartoon that caught the eye of T.K. Whitaker, the gifted Irish economist and Secretary of the Department of Finance.

“He was in his late 30s from Rostrevor in the north,” said O’Toole. “He was an Irish speaker and devout Catholic, and he had come to live and work in the Republic because he believed in Irish nationalism, he wasn’t a rebel.

“But he realized that in order for things to stay the same, things would have to change. That really was the ironic T.K. Whitaker idea, that in order to keep Catholic nationalist Ireland, we’ve had to change how our society operated radically.” 

Ireland would have to open up to foreign capital and it would have to attract private capital, Whitaker wrote.

“I think Whitaker thought, you could do it and it wouldn’t really change Catholicism, it wouldn’t really change the structure of governing and theology the way it was.

“And in fact, Catholicism still did pretty well in terms of its control of the society, right up to the end of the 20th century.

“And then it collapses with extraordinary intensity. I’m not talking about Catholicism as a faith, I’m talking about this peculiar fusion of Catholicism and nationalism as a governing ideology. But when it went it went with astonishing rapidity.”

Albania got state television before Ireland did, O’Toole notes. “The Irish government didn’t want to do television, but they had to because more and more people would be putting up huge ariels and getting the BBC. So London finally forced them into having a TV station to stop people being influenced by BBC.

“And of course, it was opened by the Archbishop of Dublin and it was headed by [Edward Roth] an Irish American, some good Catholic boy from Boston, who was the first director of programs and all he could do was buy programs from ABC and the entire back catalog of NBC and ABC.

“So we started watching American kids college programs and this huge American cultural influence started coming in.”

The great challenge before us in 2023 is how to deal with the unexpectedly promising path ahead that nothing in our past has prepared us for.

“There is always an urge to fill it with stupid slogans or populism,” O’Toole said. “But if instead you can live with uncertainty, and you’re not susceptible to every demographic who wants to tell you they know the future, and can control the future, we will be okay.

“I think, by and large, Ireland has gotten to a point where actually there is more comfort with that uncertainty.”

O’Toole concluded: “There was a big international survey a couple of years ago that asked people would you like your country to be the way it used to be? And the two countries who said no were China and Ireland.

“We may be very sentimental but we’re not nostalgic. That will save us from the kind of populism we have seen elsewhere.”

“We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland” is published by Liveright, $32.00.



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Simon Middleton: Women’s rugby kicking comments not derogatory, just an observation | ‘Female golfers use different tees to men’


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Simon Middleton has told Sky Sports his comments regarding place-kicking were not derogatory, pointing to female golfers teeing off differently to men

Simon Middleton has told Sky Sports his comments regarding place-kicking were not derogatory, pointing to female golfers teeing off differently to men

Simon Middleton has said his comments that place-kicking from the touchline in women’s rugby is “unfair” were just an observation and not derogatory, adding ‘female golfers tee off differently.’

Ahead of England’s Round 3 Women’s Six Nations clash vs Wales in Cardiff, Middleton said the parameters for goal-kicking in women’s rugby should be changed, adding: “If a try is scored [within five metres of the touchline], the option should be there, maybe not to bring it into the 15-metre line, but maybe 10 metres from the touchline.

“I think that could impact the game and change it positively. I think it is a bit of an unfair game for female kickers because so much about goal-kicking relies on power.”

Ahead of Saturday’s Round 4 clash between Ireland and England in Cork, Middleton exclusively told Sky Sports that his comments were just an observation, adding he still thinks a change would benefit the women’s game.

“Maybe it’s me being naïve, I don’t do social media and stuff like that, but there’s clearly been a strong reaction both ways to it,” Middleton said.

“For me, it’s just an observation made on 10 years of being in the game.

Middleton makes the point that he has been asked the same questions regarding women's place-kicking since 2015

Middleton makes the point that he has been asked the same questions regarding women’s place-kicking since 2015

“And it’s born out of being asked the same questions now about what we see, as I was back in 2015 and 2017. Which is why female kickers’ percentages from the touchline aren’t as good as male kickers.

“There’s a physical disparity, and lots of it can come down to technique, without a shadow of a doubt, but there is lots that can be factored in.

“It’s just an observation. If you think about how we can make the field a fairer playing field at times.

“Again, I use the analogy of women golfers as opposed to male golfers, using a different tee. There’s nothing derogatory or anything aimed in it at all.

Middleton's suggestion is place-kicking from the touchline and five metres in, should be moved 10 metres in from touch

Middleton’s suggestion is place-kicking from the touchline and five metres in, should be moved 10 metres in from touch

“It’s just how can we give players that practice religiously, what I would class as a fairer chance of executing their skill.

“We’re looking at everything all the time to try and improve the game, and if people don’t think it would improve the game, then that’s fine.

“It was literally just an observation, but caused a bit of a stir didn’t it?”

England skipper Marlie Packer played down the controversy,” saying: “There’s been some light-hearted stiff about in response, which is quite funny. And then there’s obviously some people that are very opinionated on it.

“I think when he said it, he was just putting it out there.

“The game is always evolving: tackle height, scrum laws, maul laws. We’re always looking for player safety but also to make the game more exciting.

England's Marlie Packer says Middleton was 'just putting it out there' with regards to his place-kicking comments

England’s Marlie Packer says Middleton was ‘just putting it out there’ with regards to his place-kicking comments

“Look, it’s just someone else’s opinion on something which might make it a bit more enjoyable, and a bit more people sitting on the edge of their seats kind of rugby.

“For me, we need to score close to the posts. Let’s help our teammate out, score close to the posts, and then we don’t even need to talk about this situation.

“Because the accuracy, the hard-work, the training they put into their kicking, you couldn’t question it. So let’s try and help each other out.

“So all the Tweets and articles people have written about it, leave them to it.”

England have picked up heavy victories over Scotland, Italy and Wales so far, and will likely do so again vs Ireland

England have picked up heavy victories over Scotland, Italy and Wales so far, and will likely do so again vs Ireland

Ireland are on a steep learning curve | Red Roses skipper Packer: Middleton was just putting it out there

The Red Roses next face an Ireland side who have gone from 2015 Grand Slam winners to failing to qualify for the most recent Rugby World Cup after losses to Spain and Scotland.

Ireland have suffered heavy defeats to Wales (31-5), France (55-3) and Italy (24-7) so far in this championship, and have been beset by off-field issues in recent times.

Head coach Greg McWilliams has most recently had to come out and deny the IRFU is sexist.

“Ireland are on a learning curve, and at times it feels a really steep one. We’ve been on it in the past,” Middleton said.

“But ultimately, our job is to be the best we can be. We’ve got players right across the squad who are looking to prove points, coming back from injury, looking to keep the shirt, to get the shirt.

“As a group, we want to be better every time we play. That’s our foundation.

The Ireland Women's side are in a very tough spot at the moment

The Ireland Women’s side are in a very tough spot at the moment

“We put some really good stuff together against Wales, but there was definitely some stuff we need to be better at.

“We’ve been focussed on that this week, and transferring our work in training to the game.

Middleton departs his role as Red Roses head coach at the end of the 2023 Six Nations, having been in position since 2015, leaving him with two games left in charge.

“I’m really enjoying it. I love competition anyway,” he added.

“It’s like anything in your job, you’ve got to put the hard yards in with training. The players and staff are exactly the same.

“Everything we do it for is competition. When we get in there’s such a buzz, and we have such a brilliant group together.

“We all went out last night, 49 of us, for a meal. And they were taking the mickey out of me and having a good laugh at me as I was struggling with a quiz desperately.

“I did remind them who picks the side, but it doesn’t bother them anymore! So I’m going to miss that. I’m going to really miss being around the group.

Middleton leaves his post at the conclusion of the 2023 Women's Six Nations next weekend, having been in charge since 2015

Middleton leaves his post at the conclusion of the 2023 Women’s Six Nations next weekend, having been in charge since 2015

“The thing that’s really pulling at me at the moment is I can see the game going upwards. It’s going to go massive.

“The ball is rolling and it’s only going to go faster. Last week, we had 8800 at Wales. Fantastic occasion, with stands full and the chair on the field.

“It’s a real great vibe, and you can’t not miss that.

“But I am good at leaving things behind. I’ll move on and whatever I’m doing next, I’ll enjoy. And I’ll certainly take a lot of memories with me.”



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Delicious Irish Easter recipes for the special day

Get ready for an Easter Sunday feast with these tasty Irish recipes for the special day!

Get ready for the end of Lent with these delicious Irish recipes for Easter, courtesy of the folks at irishcultureandcustoms.com!

As they explain, in old Ireland, Easter Sunday was a day of great celebration, not the least of which was the blessed relief from the abstinence of meat for nearly two months. Here, you can take your pick of lamb or ham.

Below the recipes for the meat dishes is a perfect vegetable accompaniment to any spring-time dinner menu.

And for “afters” – the Irish word for dessert – their resident Irish recipe collectors and contributors offer a delightful suggestion.

Irish Easter recipe: Garlic-ginger Roast Leg of Lamb

Preparation Time: 35 minutes

Roasting Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Cooking Tip: The crust mixture can be made and spread on the lamb up to 1 day ahead. Cover loosely with foil and refrigerate.

Ingredients:

  • 8-pound bone-in leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoons each salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons each minced garlic and fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Method:

Heat oven to 450°F. Have a large roasting pan with a rack ready. Place lamb on rack.

Mix oil, mint, garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add flour and stir until blended. Spread over top and sides of the lamb.

Roast 30 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 325 degrees F. and roast 45 to 60 minutes longer until done as desired. (Rare: 130 F. on a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part not touching fat or bone; 140°F for medium and 150°F. for medium-well).

Remove to a serving platter, cover loosely with foil to keep warm and let stand 15 minutes. (As the meat rests, juices redistribute and internal temperatures should rise about 10 degrees).

Meanwhile, spoon off and discard fat from the roasting pan. Place pan over high heat, (see note below is using a disposable foil pan), add beef broth and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil 2 minutes to reduce liquid slightly. Pour into a sauceboat and stir in lemon juice and pepper, This will make 2/3 cup to drizzle over sliced lamb. Serves 12 with leftovers.

Note: If using a foil roasting pan, bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan, pour into foil pan (do not place on the burner) and stir to scrape up brown bits on the bottom. Pour broth back into saucepan and boil and season as directed above.

Irish Easter recipe: Glazed Ham with Horseradish Mustard Sauce

Serves 12 with leftovers

Preparation Time: 22 minutes

Baking Time: 2 Hours

Cooking Tip: The sauce and the Glace can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.

Ingredients:

  • 7-pound shank or rump-end, fully cooked bone-in smoked ham.

Glaze:

  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons snipped chives or green part of scallions
  • 1 teaspoon prepared white horseradish
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Method:

Heat oven to 325°F. Line a shallow roasting pan rack with foil. Set a sturdy, flat metal rack in pan.

Cut rind off the ham and trim off excess fat, if any. Place ham on a rack. Cover loosely with foil and bake 1 1/4 hours.

Meanwhile, whisk Glaze ingredients in one small bowl and Sauce ingredients in another small bowl until blended.

Remove foil from ham and spread evenly with Glaze. Bake uncovered 40 to 45 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part (not touching the bone) registers 140°F. Let ham rest 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with the sauce.

Irish Easter recipe: Glazed Asparagus & Carrots with Pecans

A lemon glaze tops a springtime combination of fresh asparagus and carrots.

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 large (2 cups) carrots, sliced diagonally 1/4-inch
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted

Method:

Place 1 cup water in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Bring to a full boil; add carrots and asparagus. Cover; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until carrots and asparagus are crisply tender (7 to 9 minutes). Drain. Set aside; keep warm.

Melt butter in the same skillet. Stir together cornstarch, 3 tablespoons water and lemon juice in small bowl; stir into butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sauce thickens (2 to 3 minutes). Stir in lemon peel.

To serve, spoon sauce over warm carrots and asparagus. Sprinkle with pecans.

Irish Easter recipe: Easter Basket Cake

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Butter Icing:

  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 5 cups icing sugar alternately with 1/3 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

Fluffy Icing:

  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Method:

Grease sides of three 9-inch round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla extract.

Combine flour, baking powder, and bakig soda. Stir into butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk, making 3 additions of the flour mixture and 2 additions of buttermilk.

Divide among the three prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops. Bake in the center of the oven at 350 degrees F. (180 C) oven for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Run a knife around edges and turn the cake out onto the rack and peel off the paper. Turn right side up, let cool on racks. While cakes are cooling, mix up the frostings.

Butter Icing:

This easy all-purpose icing covers the cake with delicious flavors. In a bowl, beat 1 cup softened butter till fluffy; then beat in 5 cups icing sugar alternately with 1/3 cup of milk; making 3 additions of sugar and 2 of milk. Then beat in 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract.

Fluffy Icing:

This light-textured, not-too-sweet icing is ideal for matching feather-light angel food cake. It works well on cupcakes as well. Freeze any leftovers in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

In a saucepan, bring corn syrup to boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a bowl set over simmering water, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until frothy. Beat in corn syrup in a thin steady stream; beat for about 4 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Remove from heat; beat in vanilla.

Cake Assembly:

For the basket handle, we painted one we removed from an inexpensive Easter basket.

Spread butter icing on top of two cake layers. Place 1 of the layers on a flat serving plate and stack the remaining layers on top. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until icing is firm.

Remove 1 cup of fluffy icing, set aside.

Spread remaining icing over top and sides of the cake. While the icing is still soft, make a “basket weave” on the sides of the cake. Pull a skewer vertically from the bottom to the top at æ-inch intervals. Pull the skewer horizontally at æ-inch intervals from 1 line to the next, stopping at each line and lifting at end of the stroke.

Using a piping bag fitted with a plain tip, pipe the reserved icing into beads around the top and bottom edges.

Decorate with cookies (if you wish) propping them up with small marshmallows. Or “fill the top of the basket” with assorted Easter candies.

Variation: One year we made Easter “grass” with shredded coconut and placed it on top of the basket cake and then placed colored eggs on top of it. Combine 3 drops of green food coloring with a teaspoon of water. Stir it into 1 1/2 cups of sweetened coconut flakes until evenly tinted, but you must use it immediately.

* Originally published in August 2016. Last updated in April 2023.



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