Dyer’s 6N Blog – Week 4 Predictions

Date: 08 March 2013

So we reach the penultimate round of this year’s Six Nations with three teams still in with a chance of winning the tournament although only one still has the chance of a Grand Slam. The last two rounds of games have been disappointing in terms of entertainment and it is to be hoped that we see more positive rugby in this weekend’s round of fixtures.

Below I provide some brief comments on what I feel is affecting the current standard and entertainment value.

Entertainment Value

Firstly, it would be nice to see forwards looking to handle the ball rather than just getting their heads down and charging into contact. This is an area where the Northern Hemisphere teams lag well behind their Southern Hemisphere counterparts. The gain line battle is important but how you approach that battle can also open up more options for attack rather than just relying on brute force to gain territory.

Secondly, I would like to see the officials favouring those teams looking to play with positive intent. Teams engaged in slowing the ball down (particularly where the tackler is not releasing/rolling away/retreating) should be dealt with harshly. Yellow cards need to be issued quicker and not as part of some totting up procedure. Have a look at the role of the tackler this weekend, particularly those engaged in obstructing the opposition from clearing out or making scrum halves climb over/rearrange their footwork around players lying in the way. It may look nothing but anything that delays the speed of the recycle or the scrum half’s ability to move the ball gives defences precious seconds to realign leading to reduced attacking options.

Finally teams have to be braver with the ball. The endless kick tennis is down to a mixture of safety first rugby allied to concern at referee interpretation at what may transpire at the breakdown. Sometimes it would seem that the pre-programming is such that the ball is in the air before any assessment of space has even been made.

So to the games and as usual I will tackle them in match order.

Scotland vs Wales

At Murrayfield it’s a case of who will take their interest in the title to the final weekend and who will be eliminated from contention. Scotland have won two back to back games in contrasting styles and have generated confidence and momentum in doing so. The selection of Weir over Jackson at fly half appears a good move as he is more of a threat with the ball in hand and is also solid in defence. The Scots have struggled with their midfield defence and also with their work at the breakdown. The midfield is an area the Welsh will target and the Scots will have to ensure they don’t allow the likes of Roberts et al to get too far beyond the gain line. The Scots will also be aware that they cannot allow the visitors to have 70% possession or territory. If they do, then they will find that Wales will not be as wasteful as Italy or Ireland were. I cannot see the Scots changing from their territory game so they will expect to have less possession but what will be crucial is how Wales return that possession and whether the Scots kick chase and breakdown work can then prevent Wales from getting into their phase game and force turnovers. England and Ireland both went through the phases and Scotland struggled to contain them. England took their chances and blew Scotland away. Ireland didn’t and the Scots hung in. Wales will need to be clever in knowing when to keep the ball from kicks and when to kick it back. I can’t see Wales not opening up the home side on occasion and if they do then they should be able to put points on the board as Scotland’s defensive system is a work in progress. I think Warburton’s return will put even greater pressure on Kelly Brown to deliver at the breakdown. Brown is not a natural open side and whilst he is an excellent player I think the Welsh back row will have a crucial advantage at the tackle.

Wales are in confident mood and travel seeking a fifth successive away win in the tournament. I think they will get it and will win by around 12.

Ireland vs France

In Dublin it’s a case of “who knows what will happen”. Two teams who have badly under achieved will be desperate for a win and a game that before the tournament that was billed as a possible championship decider now takes on significance at the bottom of the table. Ireland don’t seem to be in a happy place whilst just when you think France are getting their selection to where it should be, the return of Michalak to the starting line up has you scratching your head. Ireland have issues at fly half with Jackson and Madigan both named this week. Jackson has been declared fit and will start and is under pressure from the off after the disaster in Edinburgh. Too many of the Irish big names appear to be out of form and this is a real worry for their fans. The French line up looks improved again from Twickenham (save for Freddie) with the return of Medard and Fritz in the backs giving a better shape to their game. The French pack went well at HQ and I think Domingo will give Ross a severe examination at the set scrum. Goal kicking will again be a factor and with Ireland going with a rookie it should mean France (providing they keep Parra as their frontline kicker) have a significant advantage. If the French coaches can keep their composure then I think Les Bleus have enough to win against an Irish side low on confidence and with a coach under pressure.

I will say France will win by 5 with the goal kicking percentages being crucial.

England vs Italy

On Sunday England will have the opportunity to put themselves into a dominant position for the title, irrespective of what happens on the final weekend. As I said in my first round of this year’s blog, I think the title will be won on point’s difference and I expect England to put plenty of points on the board on Sunday. Italy will be buoyed by the early return of Parisse but I think the Italian focus should be on the bigger picture rather than thinking they can cause an upset this weekend. Italy desperately need to find a cutting edge and should be targeting the scoring of three tries and rattling the home side as the start of attacking improvement. There is little point in the Azzuri trying to frustrate England or playing to keep the score down as this won’t work and Italy will not progress as a result. For their longer term prospects Italy need to throw caution to the wind in attack. This doesn’t mean suicidal running out of defence or just running for the sake of it, but more of a willingness to take England on with the ball and try things. The home side appear to be in a good place mentally but perhaps one or two parts of their game need attention. The composed thinking and approach of the coaching staff appears to have transferred to the players and as a result there is a calm and clear authority in the decisions made on the pitch. The home side understand their game (as far as it goes at present) and with this they are organised and keep a good shape. However their set piece has not been of the usual high standard you associate with England teams and their remains questions about their ability to score tries against a well organised defence. At the time of writing I do not know the England line up but whatever combination they go with, it will be enough for them to win comfortably.

I will take England to win by 20-25 points and as a result their superior point’s difference will mean they have one hand on the title.

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