So this time in a couple of weeks we will know who the 2013 Six Nations Champions. All the teams have played three matches and this years competition is shaping up nicely. England head the table and are on course for their first Grand Slam in 10 years, however there is a lot of rugby to be played for that to happen. There is a break now before the denouement over the weekend of March 9th/10th and then March 16th which will shape the final table. Here’s a report on where we are up to with each team. In table order.
England Top of the tree and on for the Grand Slam – three excellent victories all of a differing type. A handsome victory over a dogged Scottish side, a war of attrition victory in Dublin over the Irish (a game Owen Farrell excelled in) and then a come from behind win against the French, who not for the first time showed up at Twickers after two shocking performances. Stuart Lancaster’s team have had to cope with all situations during the tournament and have dealt admirably with the added pressure and expectation their victory over the World Champions New Zealand, has brought. Italy at home (not a gimme, but an England win is expected, especially as the talismanic Sergio Parisse** will not be available – more on the reasons later) and then a trip to Wales for a potential Grand Slam game – where not just the Welsh will be hoping for a home win. * – see end of post for an explanation – one for the Evans’ 😉
Wales Coming into the tournament Wales were having an absolute nightmare – already on a losing run of seven consecutive defeats – their tournament opened with a shocking first half against a rampant Irish team, things looked very bleak 3-23 down at half time, a thrashing was on the cards. However a spirited second half display followed, though not enough to force a victory. So now a trip to Paris was on the agenda with Wales buoyed by their improved performance there was genuine belief they could avoid a ninth straight defeat. And they prevailed in a match between two teams clearly devoid of any confidence. A George North try (one his father tried to congratulate with him on the pitch) was the key turning point and the run of losses was at an end. A convincing victory in Rome has now followed and Wales from despair at half time in Cardiff on the 2nd February are now second in the table (on points difference) and eyeing the title. A difficult trip to Scotland is next on the agenda and if they win there it will be full steam ahead to a potential championship / grand slam decider against the English at the Millennium.
Scotland were coming into the tournament on the back of encouraging performances, despite defeats, in their autumn internationals against New Zealand and South Africa. But a shocking reverse against Tonga resulted in the resignation of coach Andy Robinson. So for them to be third in the table (on points difference) is probably more than new coach Scott Johnson could have dreamed of at this stage. They ran out of puff at Twickenham against the auld enemy which resulted in a twenty point loss. But they did score a couple of tries (one starting just yards from their own try line) something they have recently found so hard to do. A four try romp followed against Italy, so confidence was high for the visit of the Irish. This time it was the defence that saw them home, as Ireland thoroughly dominated the match but did not get the requisite points and Scotland with the metronomic boot of Greg Laidlaw won the match 12-8 after coming from 0-8 down. So they lie third in the table and have an outside chance of a first championship since 1999. Wales are up next at Murrayfield and as they are in with a sniff of back to back titles it will be a keenly contested match and if Scotland prevail a trip to Paris to face the maligned French may result in glory.
Ireland’s Six Nations began superbly with an outstanding first half performance against the Welsh. Unfortunately that has been the highlight. Victory was achieved at the Millennium before a titanic struggle against the English at the Aviva, which did not go their way. After coming back from 0-6 down to level it up early in the second half, the Irish could not push on against a stoic England and defeat ensued. A disappointing result, but worse was to follow at Murrayfield. In a match where they dominated possession, chances and basically most of the game, a killer touch and missed kicks cost them as the Scottish hit four second half penalties to win 12-8. This defeat would surely have been more painful as they should have been out of sight before Scotland even got a point on the board. There have been some mitigating circumstances as they have lost some crucial players to injury before and during the tournament, O’Connell, D’Arcy, Sexton, Zebo, just to name a few. Ireland finish at home to France and then away to Italy. Two victories will now be required so as that promise from the first forty minutes is built upon to some extent.
Feb 3rd 2013 – Italy deservedly beat the French in Rome after a fantastic performance led by the talisman of Italian rugby, captain, Sergio Parisse. A fantastic 23-18 win, an even better result than two years previously as this French team were coming into the tournament as favourites and the highest ranking Northern Hemisphere team. Maybe just maybe they may not finish with a tenth wooden spoon but unfortunately since this day the Italian’s have come back down to earth with a bash. Two heavy defeats have followed, one at Murrayfield and then one back in Rome against the Welsh. The last defeat was without Sergio Parisse** who had been banned for insulting a referee whilst playing for his club side Stade Francais. He will now also miss the rest of Italy’s Six Nations matches. Without him you fear for the Italians and that great first victory may be their only highlight. England (a team they have never beaten) at Twickenham are up next, then a visit from an Ireland team who will be looking to end the competition on a high. So it could, from a massive high at the start of the tournament, end with the low of the wooden spoon at the end.
Well where do I start here – France the enigma of international rugby. A clean sweep of autumn international victories but now after three matches in this years tournament its three defeats!!!!!!! A shambolic performance against Italy, then an insipid one versus the Welsh meant they stood alone at the bottom of the table. A much improved (and lets be honest not unsurprising) performance followed against the English, but an early lead could not be held onto and the Red Rose roared back into the game and won in the end convincingly by 23-13. The French ridiculously brilliant one week, and then hopeless the next – consistency has always been an issue for them. New coach Philippe Saint-Andre is now under severe pressure and the honeymoon period that was afforded him after the victories at the end of last year is well and truly over. They sit bottom of the table with no points and the serious possibility of them ending up with the wooden spoon now looms large. A trip to Dublin is next on the agenda, never easy and then potentially a Scotland team looking to win the championship will be entertained in Paris. Hard questions need to be answered by the French now, however if they can put together a performance like they did at Twickers, but for the full 80 minutes, they are capable of salvaging something from a shocking tournament so far.
So England in the box seat at the moment with Wales and Scotland also vying for the championship, where do Ireland go from here, have Italy actually improved and as for the French WTF!!!!!!! Let me know your thoughts.
*other teams hoping Wales beat England (even if it effects their final standing in the table) – Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France and you could probably add the Southern Hemisphere major nations Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina to the list.
**as of 6th March Sergio Parisse’s ban has been reduced and he will now be available for the rest of the six nations – starting with Italy’s trip to Twickenham on the 10th March.