So two weeks into the 2019 Six Nations and as always plenty to talk about. Here are my early thoughts on each teams progress so far – in table order.
June 16th 2018, Bloemfontein, Eddie Jones’ England are beaten yet again, a 5th straight test defeat and the man in charge was under huge pressure. Even a victory over the South Africans a week later didn’t stop the talk, a poor Autumn international run (South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia awaiting) and that could be it for the Australian. Cue three victories and an oh so close defeat to the All Blacks which kept the wolves at bay, as we entered World Cup year and a huge Six Nations campaign, starting with an away trip to the reigning champions and the so called best team in the world, Ireland. Well two weeks into the tournament, England sit a top the table after a couple of bonus point victories. A fantastic performance in Dublin where they were on point from the first minute and just choked the Irish throughout the match and then they importantly followed it up with a thrashing of the French at Twickenham, a six try demolition and it could easily be argued that they were better all round in their 1st match. Whatever the situation the calls for Eddie Jones to be relieved of his duties have disappeared and they now look like a side that can emerge victorious against anybody and to beat them it would take a hell of a performance. Just a trip to Cardiff next for what will be a monstrous game against the only sides who can now win the Grandslam – what odds a draw?
It wasn’t the greatest performance but it was a comfortable one and lets be honest they never looked like they were going to be challenged, as Wales got over the line against the Italians in their second match. Warren Gatland had made a number of changes to the team from their amazing come from behind (partially handed to them on a plate by the French) victory in Paris the week earlier. Maybe it was too many changes as the Welsh were a bit disjointed in Rome. None the less they have now equalled their record of 11 successive test victories and are looking very good and most of all in my opinion they look and are playing as if they are match hardened. Gatland himself said after the France escape they just don’t know how to lose at the moment, fighting till the bitter end. Looking at the fixtures, even with two at home they have a tough run in but it will take a very good team to stop them as we stand, good luck England (in what will be a monstrous clash between the only sides left who can complete the Grandslam), Scotland and Ireland.
There were some rumblings that Scotland could end up going to Twickenham on the final weekend of the tournament with a Grandslam title within their grasps. A favourable fixture list and a bit of luck, allied with their improved quality, especially on the attacking side, maybe just maybe it could be on. Their opening bonus point win over Italy, though expected gave real hope, however they fluffed their lines against the Irish, giving their opposition easy tries via mistakes and missing tackles as well as not being able to take their own opportunities. There was the odd officiating decision that didn’t go their way, but that was no excuse, especially as captain Greig Laidlaw even mentioned after the match that they only have themselves to blame. Bouncing back quickly against France away must have their full focus as they are still in with a chance of the title but must tighten up their game and be more precise through all facets or a promising tournament could end up being a disastrous one.
The apparent so called best team in the world after they beat New Zealand – DONT MAKE ME LAUGH!!!!!!! – I said that at the time and not just after they were bested by the English in their opener. No doubt Ireland are an outstanding team but beating the world’s best in a one off does not make you the number one side on the planet, unless you can back up those sort of results, which we now know they could not do. However, for me what we saw at Murrayfield showed that this Irish side can bounce back, even when they are not at their best, which is a trait if continued can see them get to the top of the tree. Yes they were helped by Scottish errors, but they got the lead and never looked like relinquishing it, their forwards were outstanding in controlling the game and they were clinical when the try scoring opportunities came. Make no bones about it, Ireland are well in this Six Nations title battle, if not back to back Grandslams. A trip to Italy is up next before the French come to Dublin, two victories will be expected (and would not be a surprise) so come the final week, it may well be in their hands for the consolation of retaining their title at least.
Oh where do I start with the French, isn’t it always the same with them though. 16-0 up at half-time against the Welsh in Round 1, they somehow contrived (ridiculously and very loosely in my opinion) to surrender their advantage, due to some shocking basic errors in play.Even then when they retook the lead and were on the attack an appalling pass was intercepted and that was that, a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, due to their own incompetent. They followed that with a battering by the English at Twickenham 44-8. They did at times actually show that they can play and their younger players showed real individual skill and guile, however as a team they were a shambles, making error after error and infringing on numerous occasions. If England had been at their complete best it could have been a much worse scoreline. They only find themselves off the bottom due to a bonus point loss, at this rate they will be contesting the wooden spoon against the Italians on the final weekend. A huge match is now coming up against a bruised and what will be a very determined to bounce back Scotland in Paris come February 23rd. Head Coach, Jacques Brunel has a contract till the end of the World Cup but a defeat against the Scots may well see all hell break loose and big changes. Watch this space.
I do feel for Italy. They have improved in terms of their quality of play in the last few years, but unfortunately so have all the other teams in the competition, even the French. Conor O’Shea is eking out every last ounce from his players but for whatever reason (he says it is mental) they just cannot win a Six Nations match. It is now nearly 4 years (and 19 matches) since their last victory in this tournament. They showed spirit as always against the Welsh in a 15-26 defeat, though they never looked like they would win the game. This followed a 33-20 defeat away to the Scots in Round 1, though a late 17 point spurt, when their opponents seemingly took their foot off the gas made the scoreline look more respectable. Let’s be honest Italy just need to win a game to make this a successful tourney for them, the only problem is they have a resurgent Ireland up next, then a trip to Twickenham, where they always get beaten, maybe France at home in the their last match? We shall see but I doubt many in the rugby world will be predicting a win for the Italians, sadly this is their level at the moment. The fact that Wales made 10 changes to their team to face them says everything about how they are seen within this Six Nations tournament.
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