After two superb rounds of the 2018 tournament, this year’s Six Nations is certainly proving as tense, entertaining and unpredictable as hoped. Wales presently lie in third place, on six points, having taken Scotland to the cleaners in round one with an emphatic bonus-point victory in Cardiff.
Tries from Steff Evans, Gareth Davies, and a brace for Leigh Halfpenny – his first touch-downs for Wales since 2013 – secured a stylish, accomplished, memorable victory over the much-fancied Scots.
What perhaps impressed me most about this explosive start was the freedom with which Wales played. The familiarity of the Scarlets contingent no doubt helped proceedings in this department – no fewer than ten made the starting line-up. Key to the way Wales played was Rhys Patchell, who was absolutely electric – his passing was pin-point accurate, he was excellent with the boot, and ran with width and pace, picking out holes in the Scotland defence.
I have huge admiration for Scotland, and the way they have been playing under new coach Gregor Townsend has been superb. Emily and I watched them beat Italy in a one-off summer test match last year, a game in which they were quite brilliant. They have some serious talent right across the park, and the likes of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell can trouble any team. Scotland quite rightly went into this game with some confidence, and despite the result, I believe their Six Nations campaign is far from over: I’ll back them to finish in the top half of the table this year, especially as they overcame France in round two.
Meanwhile, Wales lost to England in Twickenham in round two, escaping a tense and bruising encounter with a losing bonus point. The hosts took a very early lead through two Johnny May tries in the opening quarter, but failed to score again. Wales grew into the match, but thanks to some pretty extraordinary defending, were unable to cross the whitewash, and were restricted to two successful penalty kicks.
Let’s get one thing straight: Gareth Anscombe’s try was disallowed by the television match official, can we get over it now, please? The Welsh media has been awash with seemingly endless replays, photographs, angles, analysis, opinions, accusations…I mean, come on. Wales lost, let’s move on. Let’s focus on getting our campaign back on track: the next game, a Dublin showdown with Ireland on 24th March.
England took their chances early on and then defended brilliantly for the win. They next travel to Murrayfield for a blockbuster fixture against Scotland, hoping to keep alive their hopes of an historic third successive Championship title.
Here’s the Six Nations table as it currently stands:
Ireland are looking good. Very good, and very strong. Their round five meeting with England is starting to really look like a Championship decider.
Italy, meanwhile, seem in complete disarray. I do hope they defy their own recent form, and rip up the rule book, by registering at least one victory in this campaign (hopefully not against Wales). Unfortunately, having already shipped 102 points in the first two rounds of fixtures, it looks like it could be a long tournament for the Azzurri.
Interestingly, the club form of the two Italian teams in the Pro14 has been on an upward curve of late, with both Zebre and Benetton notching up several notable wins. Indeed, the latter raised a few eyebrows by beating Pro14 Champions Scarlets at the weekend, registering their seventh win of the season.
The Ospreys also slipped to a disappointing defeat to Connacht in Galway, their hopes of securing a top three spot in Conference A taking a big blow in the process.
The Dragons fared much better, starting brightly and securing a valuable home draw against high-flying Glasgow. It was especially great to see Wales full-back Hallam Amos produce some great running lines. I’d expect to see him involved in the Wales v Ireland match next weekend.
The Blues picked up four very valuable points with a hard-fought home win against The Cheetahs. The Superb Nick Williams led the charge with a typically destructive display, scoring a try in a man-of-the-match performance.