Monday, 3 February 2014

Six Nations - All Still to Play For

One round of matches into the Six Nations and in reality not much is clearer about who will be holding the trophy aloft on 15th March. Three home victories leave Wales, France and Ireland heading the table but none of the three victors established themselves as the team to beat. 

It has been much discussed that Wales were pretty unconvincing in their win over Italy. Gifted an early try by a nervous and inexperienced Italian back-line, they failed to capitalise on what was a big chance to hit some significant numbers. Given that last year's tournament came down to points difference, only taking +8 from the Italians could yet come back to haunt the two-time defending champions. Even the usually flawless Leigh Halfpenny threw a dismal pass leading to a straightforward interception and try.

All this being said, let's not forget how Wales started the tournament 12 months ago. Being 30-3 down at home after 40 minutes and going onto lose to a major rival is a whole lot worse than just having to scrape a victory against one of the weaker teams. With Lions centre Jonathan Davies (yes the one controversially selected ahead of Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll, by Wales coach Warren Gatland) set to return a lot earlier than originally suspected, I wouldn't expect to see Welsh team that emerges in Dublin to be remotely the same, in personnel or performance, as the one which left the field in Cardiff. 

The Irish managed to see off an initially positive and organised Scotland team, who faded significantly as the game went on. Inevitably all games open up as players tire and substitutions loosen teams' structure, but into the latter stages of the second half, Ireland suddenly looked like they could score at any moment. There was a good level of cohesion and replacements for key players like O'Connell, Bowe and O'Brien stood up to be counted. A relatively easy home game is an ideal start to a campaign, allowing time for the squad to settle and find some rhythm. Both Wales and Ireland have had that chance, and as such, things are perfectly set up for their clash this coming Saturday.

As for England, I don't want to talk about it. Yes we performed well in the second half and there's lots to play for yet but frankly you can't afford simple mistakes and if we hadn't dug ourselves a hole in the first half, the door wouldn't have been open for Fickou to storm through at the death. The truth is that the better team always wins - England may have dominated parts and played good rugby, but unless you can take your chances and be clinical and focussed to the last minute, you're always liable to let the game slip. No doubt Scotland will pose an entirely different sort of threat to Lancaster's side, fierce passion and physicality likely to be the defining features. Maitland's absence will be a sorely felt by the Scots, and the returning Jonny May could make a big difference to English fluency through the backs. 

On the assumption that France will comfortably have enough to put away the Italians, the table could again make for fascinating viewing come Sunday evening.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your blog and unusually for a post on rugby agreed with just about everything, look forward to reading more.