This weekend represents the half way point in this year’s Six Nations Championship. It could prove to be the crucial week in determining who is likely to finish both top and bottom of the table. Here our Director of Rugby Gareth Dyer provides his predictions for Week 3. His score so far is 5 correct predictions out of 6 played.
This week’s round of fixtures should make for interesting viewing. There is a likely wooden spoon decider in Rome whilst the two remaining unbeaten sides have tough away fixtures to navigate. Whilst I expect things to become clearer at the bottom of the table, I think this weekend could really open things up at the top.
England vs Ireland
I’ll start at Twickenham where this game is so finely balanced it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended in a draw. The two form teams meet, both knowing a win will be huge in terms of their overall tournament ambitions. Ireland were superb in their demolition of Wales last time out, whilst England have an increasing zip to their play and added belief in their own ability.
The loss of Dan Cole will disrupt England but in terms of longer term ambitions they need to know the strength of their back up. Ireland can win the Triple Crown on Saturday and will travel knowing they have the experience to beat England. Throughout both teams look well matched. Both packs are uncompromising with strong set pieces. At the breakdown both will bring an intensity that should make for an intriguing battle. At half back they have players in form and goal kickers that are capable of both majesty and fallibility in equal measure.
Wider out it is the fearless young tyros against the more experienced maestros. Ireland will want to employ the kicking game that flattened Wales to test out the defensive composure of Nowell and May to see if the issues of Paris were one offs or something more. England will want to continue to play the game at pace with Farrell playing flat and Care bringing pace and runners into play around the fringes.
It could come down to the finest of margins (the place kicking percentages, a referee’s call, an untimely injury, a late drop goal) and I would not be surprised if we did see a draw. However that would be fence sitting and I hate that so I will come down on one side. After much deliberation I will say England to win but it will be tight with the result in doubt right to the end.
Wales vs France
This is a battle of two teams with much to prove. Wales were comprehensively outplayed in Dublin whilst Les Bleus may be unbeaten but have flattered to deceive in their two games to date. The composition of the French side ranges from world class operators to the distinctly average whilst their inability to find a sustained tempo to their game continues to raise questions as to their approach under Saint Andre.
As a rugby fan I want to see France play with ambition and at pace. When I was growing up, the great French teams that dominated the old Five Nations were built on fearsome forward strength complimented by the wit and invention of supreme backs (such as Blanco, Sella, Charvet, Mensel, Lagisquet, Camberabero and Saint Andre himself). To see France strangled into a power and kicking game is a travesty. Wales themselves need to rediscover some attacking flair. They have become almost obsessed with a power game with size deemed the first and only requirement. They have lost the pace out of their game with their lack of efficiency at the breakdown becoming a real concern.
Anybody who watches the Welsh regions will not be surprised that the Welsh XV struggles at the breakdown and the maul. I haven’t seen any Welsh side able to create an effective driving maul for years and this inability to suck defenders in allows opposition to flood the defensive line and gang tackle the large Welsh backs and slow up ball. The continued reluctance to start Tipuric and Hook is a frustration but the introduction of Webb at scrum half should hopefully see some added fizz. I’m not convinced by France so I will go for a home win for a team hopefully stung into a response by their Dublin horror show. Wales to win by 7.
Italy vs Scotland
After missing a year, this contest again becomes the battle to avoid the Wooden Spoon. Whilst negativity engulfs all things Scotland in this Six Nations, I think Italy have made strides forward with an increasing intensity in their play. The selection tactics of Scott Johnson are again a talking point with the dropping of Denton somewhat mystifying. The dropping of Ford and the reintroduction of Richie Gray and Johnny Beattie were likely calls and does give the Scottish pack an improved look but to then leave out Denton seems to be a case of one step forward, one step back.
That there are no changes in the back division suggests this is the best available and that the unit is going to be given time to gel. Scotland are in limbo on and off the pitch and it will be interesting to see what passion they can engender after their tame surrender in the Calcutta Cup. After two away games in which they have shown up well, Italy will look to make home advantage pay. Sloppy errors and judgements continue to haunt the Italians and the lack of a class place kicker is something they must address.
They remain a work in progress but I expect them to have an edge up front and have enough promise behind the scrum to fashion a win. So it’s Italy to win by 4-6 leaving Scotland staring down the barrel.