An intriguing third round of Six Nations fixtures saw Scotland demolish Wales with a stunning second half performance at Murrayfield, while Ireland beat a lively France in Dublin to keep their title hopes alive. Meanwhile, title rivals England were made to sweat thanks to a tactical curveball thrown by opponents Italy, who made a complete mockery of the rules governing the tackle area and, for the first half at least, looked capable of causing an upset at Twickenham.
I was very disappointed with Wales’ performance in Edinburgh, particularly in the second half. The team sheet for this tournament has remained largely unchanged for the first three rounds, but weaknesses in attack, defence, decision making and tactics were once again exposed, and were perhaps more noticeable than ever against Scotland. I am still waiting for that great warrior Alun Wyn Jones to really stamp his authority over a game in this competition. Instead, one post-match report claimed that AWJ and Dan Biggar disagreed over kicking a penalty to goal at an important stage in this game. What’s gone wrong? These players have won Grand Slams and Lions tours. A part of me thinks some of the players are feeling the pressure of the media after yet another tepid match-day performance.
Curiously, Rob Howley has stuck to his guns and named an unchanged side to face Ireland in Cardiff on Friday night. He is calling for a response, but I can’t help feeling there have already been enough opportunities to respond, and there at least needs to be some drastic changes in on-field personnel. Just look at the All Blacks: they will only ever pick on form, never on reputation. Never looking for a response.
Wales are, mathematically, still able to win the tournament, but would need such a specific set of results to go their way that I feel the Ireland game should have been approached with a degree of abandon. I’d love to see them really throw the shackles off. I would start with Sam Davies at No.10, swap Liam Williams to full-back, and start Keelan Giles on the wing. What a great opportunity that would be for the young Ospreys winger.
Scotland will next face England at Twickenham. Italy sure upset the applecart with their tricky tactical approach to their England showdown. The game was interesting to watch, especially as England were trying to establish a means of negating the challenge posed by Italy, who committed no-one to the breakdown time after time, thereby creating no offside line, and allowing them to attack from behind the ruck. It was a strange match from a spectator’s perspective, and one that will undoubtedly be picked apart and analysed from every angle in the weeks and months to come. England coach Eddie Jones certainly didn’t approve, claiming “that’s not rugby”. There are even signs that World Rugby are considering a rule change in the wake of this game.
England survived to further extend their winning streak to 17 test games, and will now face a buoyant Scotland team in Twickenham on Saturday. The Scots haven’t beaten England in London since 1983, but they’ll surely fancy their chances after some stunning performances this season. Let’s not forget that Scotland at this point remain title contenders themselves. That’ll be a cracking game.
Elsewhere, Italy host France on Saturday, and we will be eagerly watching to see what other tricks Conor O’Shea and his coaching team have up their sleeves. France are showing signs of rediscovering some flair, and Italy could pay if Les Bleus hit the ground running in Rome.
The Principality Stadium is going to be absolutely rocking for the visit of Ireland on Friday night, and I cannot wait. It’s a fascinating fixture, one that’s produced some brilliant clashes and some sublime rugby over the years. Wales will need to really breathe fire to win this one.