So we are three fifths of the way into this years 6 Nations and what a fantastic tournament it has been so far. The second two week long break is upon us before the final matches for all teams are played on back to back weekends. Here is my review of the tournament, team by team, so far.
Three matches threes wins. They have looked to be the class act of the tournament and deservedly sit a top the table. 13 tries in their last two matches have shown their class, yes one was against Italy but their 5 against Wales show they mean business. Their fixture schedule has been kind, with three homes matches on the bounce, but the key to their run was the win in Paris in the first week, a match they should have won comfortably but when they were under pressure to convert in the final moments, a multi-phase assault led to an extraordinary Johnny Sexton drop goal from miles out. They have earnt their position with the Grand Slam firmly on the agenda – Scotland and England beware.
The holders and back to back winners have had a strange tournament. They dominated Italy running in seven tries, though at times they looked vulnerable. Against Wales they got themselves 12-0 up but didn’t score a point for over an hour in a narrow win. Then against Scotland they were blown away at Murrayfield in the opening half and relinquished the Calcutta Cup for the first time in 10 years. A friend of mine said England’s defeat against Scotland was on the cards, which I agree to some extent, but Dylan Harley’s admission after that match saying they didn’t have enough intensity is almost unforgiveable. Eddie Jones took responsibility and if England want to create history and win back to back to back 6 Nations titles they are going to have to improve their performances and quickly. Just the matter of France away next up before the possibly, Grand Slam seeking Irish come to Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day looking to really stick the boot in.
After coming into the tournament following the high of a record breaking demolition of Australia last November, it was thought that Scotland had their best chance ever of recording a first 6 Nations title. However a thrashing from Wales in their opener dampened the spirit somewhat and it was back to the drawing board for Gregor Townsend. To be fair they have responded superbly with back to back wins, firstly a come from behind victory against the French and then their first win over England for 10 years with a front leading performance that has now given them the opportunity to win the competition. They sit third in the table, six points behind table toppers Ireland, where they head to next, before facing the perennial wooden spoonists Italy to finish off their campaign. If Scotland want to be taken seriously as contenders they will need to win both of those games. They have shown they can bounce back already this 6 Nations, but can they also push on, we will soon find out.
With a long injury list (upwards of 7/8 Lions missed their first two matches) and a number of very inexperienced players being blooded, many experts thought this may be a difficult 6 Nations for Warren Gatland and his team. However, even though they lie 4th in the table after three rounds they can feel that their team is in a good place. They destroyed Scotland with some thrilling running rugby (WarrenBall – what is that again?) their next two matches were on paper their most difficult and they acquitted themselves well at Twickenham and were a tad unlucky, on another day they might have scraped a win. In Ireland they also played well but were just beaten by a team who had a few more ‘street smarts’ with so much more experience. A strong finish is now needed as Gatland has seen he has very good depth below his so called first teamers. This tournament could be the beginning of a very fruitful end to the Gatland reign come the 2019 World Cup.
My opinion on France, is that despite being their usual inconsistent best they have actually been a tad unlucky this tournament, in another year they could have won all three of their matches. Against Ireland they took advantage of their opponents taking their foot off the gas and will rue the very kickable penalty that was missed at 13-12 ahead as they lost to a last gasp drop goal. At Murrayfield they started superbly but then dropped off and allowed a Scotland side, who can now score tries from anywhere, to get a foothold and eventually beat them. The Italy match was huge for them and they did what they needed to and being fair to them they came through some adversity and showed decent spirit to come out in the end comfortable winners. As always they are difficult to assess, mercurial and outstanding one minute them amateurish and clueless the next. England in Paris and Wales in Cardiff will most definitely tell us more.
Sadly for Italy, it is a similar story, playing good rugby but falling to defeats and heavy ones at that in this years 6 Nations. They are pretty much nailed on for the wooden spoon again, this would be the 13th time in 19 tournaments for the team that ended years of tradition with the 5 Nations, making up the 6th team. Head Coach, Conor O’Shea, has seen his team improve, there are some good youngsters coming through and they look so much more dangerous in attack, they have actually scored more tries than France and Scotland. However the record under the Irishman in this competition of played 8 lost 8 and zero points is grim, continual defeats in the 6 Nations must knock confidence massively. You feel things are not going to get any better. They go to Cardiff to play Wales who will see them as cannon fodder then a much improved Scotland side visit Rome. The sad thing is, even getting any bonus points will now be seen as success, though that will not stop the calls for an end to the closed shop nature of the 6 Nations.
So Ireland in pole position, with England and Scotland ready to pounce. Wales and France won’t be winning the tournament but they have a lot to play for especially in regards of developing their teams and squads further. Italy are just hoping they do not get blown away, yet again.
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