Six Nations: Round Two

A breathless second week of Six Nations actions saw a huge victory for Ireland in Rome; England extend their unbeaten run to 17 test matches with a late win in Cardiff; and France see off a resilient Scotland team to record their first win of the tournament. There were lots of huge talking points, so here’s the full round-up, along with a few predictions of what Round 3 may bring…

  1. A thoroughly absorbing contest between Wales and England in Cardiff saw the home team agonisingly close to victory, only for Wales to relinquish the lead in the 75th minute, shattering any Welsh hopes of a Grand Slam (and this Welsh Rugby Man’s heart to boot). The game was played at an exhausting pace, the teams well matched in both attack and defence, with a couple of small individual errors from Wales and English opportunism perhaps ultimately contributing to the result. England performed far better than they did against France, but I would say they are still some way from reaching their potential during the Six Nations, and could end up putting a cricket score on Italy next weekend if everything finally clicks. Wales looked much more organised and indeed a lot more ambitious in attack at times – maybe sometimes too ambitious, as two kickable penalty opportunities were spurned in favour of a kick to touch. Still, Alun Wyn Jones was every bit the warrior in the engine room, and there are indications the back-row combination of Warburton, Tipuric and Moriarty is really starting to find its mojo. Moriarty enjoyed an exceptional evening, carrying well and defending aggressively. He divided the audience with a colossal but slightly late tackle on the superb Owen Farrell – just how late the tackle was depends on which side of the River Severn you’re from. Taulupe Faletau’s appearance from the bench to replace Moriarty on the 50-minute mark actually felt premature, an indication of the Gloucester back-row’s influence on this contest. I now believe we have two world-class operators competing for the No.8 jersey in Wales. Final Score: Wales 16 – 21 England
  2. Ireland thrashed an Italy side that sadly seemed to have conceded defeat after the 60-minute mark. To be honest, even a losing bonus point felt out of reach at that stage, Joe Shmidt’s side making amends for their defeat against Scotland in Round One. This game was pretty much one-way traffic, with virtually any enterprise shown by the Italians undone through some ferocious, well-drilled Irish defending. Italy made too many unforced errors and some poor decisions, and Ireland looked in an unforgiving mood. A standout performer was Ireland blind-side flanker CJ Stander, who was just absolutely relentless all afternoon. This man will win a British and Irish Lions cap. His man-of-the-match performance saw him run in a staggering hat-trick of tries, one of two Irishmen to record hat-tricks in a remarkable rout. It was a complete team performance, superb to watch. On this sort of form, Ireland could yet go on to be title contenders. Final Score: Italy 10 – 63 Ireland
  3. The Sunday afternoon game saw Scottish hopes of beating France in Paris dashed by two late penalties. Greig Laidlaw and Josh Strauss were casualties in a close, exciting and brutal encounter, with both key players now sadly set to miss the rest of the Six Nations. Interestingly, Scotland have never won a Six Nations game in Paris – their last victory there coming in 1999 as Scotland won the old Five Nations tournament. There is a deserved optimism surrounding this Scotland team. Their back line, anchored by live-wire Stuart Hogg, looks inventive and unpredictable, willing to attack from anywhere. I’m also a big fan of Glasgow try-machine Tommy Seymour, who could be another good bet for making the Lions tour. Final Score: France 22-16 Scotland

Round Three will see Scotland host Wales, Ireland face France, and England meet Italy. Wales will certainly look to keep their tournament hopes alive, and could have the firepower and experience to outmuscle Scotland. It’ll be a tight affair, but I’m backing Wales to win that one. Given Ireland’s performance against Italy, I think they will face France with some confidence and could win by ten points, especially as they’ll be looking for bonus points now to make up for their opening round loss. England v Italy will surely only end one way, and although the Azzurri will be really fired up to take on England at Twickenham, if England find the kind of form they hit in the November series, I fear things could really get ugly for Italy after the hour mark.

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Six Nations: Week One Round-Up

An exhilarating opening weekend to the 2017 Six Nations saw Scotland, England and Wales make winning starts to their respective campaigns, with lots of huge talking points across three excellent games.

Scotland v Ireland was certainly a fitting opener to this year’s tournament. The Scots roared into a 21-8 half-time lead, Stuart Hogg providing two superbly worked touchdowns, and offering a timely reminder of his talents to the British and Irish Lions selectors. Ireland looked very strong in the second half, but had left themselves far too much to do, and a typically strong defensive effort from the tenacious Grey brothers, along with two sweetly struck Greig Laidlaw penalties, allowed the Scots to keep their noses in front, and record a famous Murrayfield victory. This is only the second time Scotland have won their opening Six Nations game, and they truly did it in style, against an Ireland team many are fancying for this year’s title.

England v France at Twickenham was a gruelling affair, and although England emerged as winners, the team, along with outspoken Head Coach  Eddie Jones, will want a far more fluid and efficient performance when England visit Cardiff on Saturday. England, currently ranked second in the world, seemed a shadow of the team that swept aside virtually every opponent they faced in 2016. Excellent use of the substitutions bench proved the difference in the end: a stubborn and rejuvenated French team, looking extremely dangerous, eventually beaten when replacement centre Ben Te’o crossed the whitewash on seventy minutes to save the hosts’ bacon. England have now set a new record for their number of consecutive test victories – fifteen – and, to have done so while playing well below-par at times is a credit to the team, and perhaps an indication of the strength and depth of this crop of players.

Wales faced Italy in Rome on Sunday in the final game of round one. Lots of pundits saw this as a potential “banana skin” of a fixture for Wales, and a low-scoring first half saw Italy deservedly nudge ahead through an Eduardo Gori try. Wales seemed to flounder before the break, showing no signs of scoring any tries of their own, and indeed made no clean line-breaks in the first period. The second half saw the defensive structures of both teams unravel, and Wales gradually began to show a bit more intent and ambition, eventually scoring three unanswered tries (and narrowly missing out on a fourth, bonus-point score in the dying moments of the game). A blistering George North run, which saw the Northampton wing score under the posts from 70 metres, was one of the highlights, although he looked to be struggling with a leg injury which could yet rule him out of the England clash on Saturday.

Also an injury doubt for that game is Dan Biggar who injured his ribs during the game, and was replaced by the superb Sam Davies who, in honesty, had a massive impact on the game. His style of play, which often sees him stand flat on the gain line, allows for a great offloading position mid-field while also drawing in defenders and creating gaps out wide. He also has a fine kicking game, which could be a potent weapon should he feature against England next weekend.

Six Nations Time!

Greetings from South Africa! It’s been a while since my last post as Emily, Chris and I are currently in the middle of a massive road trip across this great country! It’s been an amazing experience so far!

It’s that time of year again, and the Six Nations is very nearly upon us! I might be in a different hemisphere right now, but I’m every bit as excited to see the tournament get started this weekend!

Scotland v Ireland is first up, and with Glasgow in such great form, I believe we’ll see Scotland take the spoils at Murrayfield. Many point to Ireland’s superb autumn campaign – which included a first ever win over the All Blacks – as an indication of things to come, with lots of pundits believing they could steal England’s crown come Round 5. This will be a huge contest on Saturday, a close affair I think, but I’m backing Scotland.

England host France in Saturday’s second game. Tickenham will be absolutely bouncing, and despite signs that France are beginning to rediscover their flair, I predict England to comfortably triumph at this early stage. England were just superb in the November series, and will certainly take some stopping in this year’s tournament. Only Wales and Ireland – both of whom England play away from home – will, I believe, pose the greatest threat to England’s title hopes.

Wales pay against Italy in Rome on Sunday afternoon. This will be an intriguing encounter. Both sides had reasonable autumn campaigns, although Wales’ style of play, and the pretty dour manner of their three November victories, left critics pulling their hair out. Alun Wyn Jones has taken the captaincy from Sam Warburton, and his direct approach could be just what Wales need. Wales fans want to see fast, flowing, attacking rugby in this tournament, and with the introduction of bonus points for scoring four or more tries, this is perhaps an important game in which to start as they mean to go on. Having registered in excess of 60 points over the Italians in their last two Six Nations encounters, Wales will probably not lack in confidence going to Rome. However, they will be aware that, under the new coaching set-up of ex-Harlequins boss Conor O’Shea, Italy may be better drilled and more organised than in recent seasons. Let’s not forget the Italians, like Wales, beat the Springboks in November, and I think they have the potential to cause one or two upsets this term.

My overall prediction is that England will retain their Six Nations title, although I don’t think they will complete a clean sweep this year.

Let battle commence!