So the second week of the Six Nations is done and dusted. As is the case after a couple of games in any competition, we have some further insight in to how the respective participants are shaping up. Some suspicions after the first round of games have been confirmed as fact whilst only one team can now win a slam.
Scotland vs Italy
Starting at Murrayfield we saw a comfortable win for the Scots as Italy imploded with naivety. As with the opening game of last weekend, the statistics make some interesting reading. The visitors had two thirds of both possession and territory, made only 58 tackles to the hosts 146, had 143 carries to the hosts 65 and won 91 rucks as compared to 48 by the home side. But as Scott Johnson said “Statistics are like bikini’s. They show you a lot but not the whole thing”. One telling statistic is that despite having more of the game, Italy only gained 13 more metres with the ball than Scotland over the full 80 minutes. Scotland were able to pressure the Azzuri into repeated wrong options with two tries coming direct from Italian mistakes. The hosts were also able to create two well worked scores and whilst early days, perhaps the Johnson affect is starting to improve the Scots attacking game. It might be relief but I don’t think the Scots should be getting too carried away by their “thrashing” of Italy. They will need to put Ireland away in a fortnight to show this was more than just a one off. Talking of which, Italy showed that they are far from the finished article. The Italian midfield returned to its poor game management with Orquera having a dismal afternoon. I thought the game would be won in the last 20 as Italy tired from their previous week’s exertions in beating France but the lack of energy was apparent from the off. They will be grateful to have a week off and to get back to Rome for their next game.
France vs Wales
In Paris we saw a poor game from two teams more frightened of losing than going out to win. I thought for a long time this game would finish in a draw but in the end a strong last 15 minutes to the game by Wales saw them home. France are in disarray. Saint Andre’s record in the Six Nations is now played 7 and won 2. Whilst that on its own is a poor reflection on Les Bleus, it pales into insignificance when you try to ascertain what the actual game plan is. France were clueless with the ball in hand, almost hamstrung by being over coached as to what options they must take on the field. Whilst much comment has been made about the starting selection for Les Bleus, my theory is that the influx of foreign players into the Top 14 is already starting to have an impact. Look down the French clubs starting XV’s in the Heineken Cup and at least 50% (and in the case of Toulon substantially more) of the players are now non-French qualified. It may look good to have French clubs qualifying for the knockout stages but it would seem it is to the detriment of the national XV. Given that as a player Saint Andre was a risk taker who played rugby in the traditional French way, he is very much the coaching pragmatist with his teams high in structure but low in flair. His approach is the antithesis of how France should play and the tournament is all the poorer because of it. Wales will be all the better for a win built on having a strong set piece and low on mistakes. Wales have shot themselves in the foot throughout their losing run so to win a close game and shade most if not all parts of the game will give them confidence for the rest of the tournament.
Ireland vs England
The last game of the weekend was in Dublin and for the neutral it was disappointing that the conditions had such an influence on both teams approach. I suggested England would win by a “comfortable 9” points and I was almost right at they won by a “comfortable 6”. England were the better team in all departments. They were composed, disciplined and were tactically superior to an error strewn Ireland who were guilty of over playing in the wrong areas of the pitch. England played the conditions correctly, time and again pushing Ireland back into their own third. Ireland dropped too many balls and lost the kicking battle badly. When O’Gara entered the fray, my thoughts were that Sexton’s injury may be the rugby gods smiling on Ireland. But perhaps on this display ROG’s best days are behind him as he lost the distance battle to Farrell and missed a crucial penalty to bring the hosts back to within 3 with time still left for a late onslaught. Healy’s act of foul play was ridiculously handled by the match officials. This was at least a yellow card and if a red had been handed out then it would have not been totally out of place. Yes the England player was on the wrong side but Healy’s stamp on Cole’s ankle joint was done to cause injury not to clear out the player. It is this inconsistency of action by officials that gets fans hot under the collar. Interpretations at the breakdown and scrum cause enough debate but clear foul play is either to be treated with zero tolerance all the time or not at all. I doubt England will care but me thinks Mr. Healy may be having an enforced rest for the Irish trip to Murrayfield. If he isn’t then the game will again failed to ensure there is a consistent and clear message to all.