Our Director of Rugby scored a full house in this week’s round of Six Nations fixtures and sits on an overall score of 5 correct predictions out of 6 played to date. Here he gives his reaction to the weekend’s games.
“Re-reading my comments in my preview to Week 2, I think I was reasonably accurate in my predictions as to how the three games would play out over the weekend. France and Italy was close for 45 mins before a points surge took Les Bleus clear of the spirited Azzurri, Ireland dominated the breakdown and used the strengths of their lineout and maul to outplay a struggling Welsh XV whilst England totally dominated the Calcutta Cup against a Scottish side that offered little to a contest that was more one sided than the score line suggests.
Scotland vs England
I suggested there was only going to be one winner and so it proved. The power play of the England ball carriers overwhelmed a woefully inadequate home side who were brushed aside with the minimum of fuss. My view beforehand was Scotland could not score tries. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t fashion a score of any description. There was also a distinct lack of passion. I thought they would come out and make it an uncomfortable opening 20 minutes but England got away to a brisk start and it was pretty much over as a contest by the half hour mark. England displayed ambition and had all the star performers, but they will be frustrated that they didn’t score more points given their total domination. Accuracy remains an issue in midfield but wider out they are starting to show some intent. May, Nowell and the superb Brown were a constant threat and perhaps England overplayed the close quarter stuff when they could have released their outside backs more quickly. Billy Vunipola was again excellent and despite some nit-picking England are ticking along nicely. Scotland look in a bad place. The players appear lost and the changes before and during the game made you wonder what Scott Johnson is thinking. To take off Denton after 50 minutes was close to the final straw for the suffering Scottish support, or so you thought. But when you are hurting, to hear the flippant remarks from your coach just added salt to Scottish wounds.
Ireland vs Wales
Well quite frankly there was only one team in this. Ireland outmuscled and out thought Wales with Joe Schmidt winning the coaches tactical battle hands down. I thought the battle at the breakdown would define the game and so it proved. The Irish back row dominated and my view that the Welsh selection was flawed proved correct. The Irish lineout and maul were superior and whilst pre-game I questioned their go forward options, Ireland took this out of the equation though a supreme kicking game that put Wales on the back foot throughout. The Welsh tactic of playing close to the ruck was strange given both sides respective strengths, particularly with Faletau asked to play in an almost third centre position. As a Welsh fan, I find the treatment of James Hook particularly frustrating. Priestland was thoroughly outplayed by the brilliant Sexton and struggled throughout yet still there was no sign of Hook being summoned from the bench. With Plan A coming up against a brick wall it was unfathomable as to why the less prosaic talents of Hook were not introduced. However, at the end of the day it comes down to what happens up front and Ireland were superior in every department. Ireland have a good balance to their game and are finding belief in their new coach’s methods. They were clearly motivated by the summer’s events where as the visitors looked drained by them in comparison.
France vs Italy
This was a strange game in many respects. Italy had significantly more possession and territory throughout and should have been in front at half time. However, whilst they look sharper in their phase play they are now playing without a proven goal kicker and this stopped them punishing a lacklustre French side in the first half. France roused themselves for a punishing three try burst which effectively killed the game before retreating back into their shells for the last half hour. Sign of a good team or one that still fails to convince? Les Bleus have some class acts in the form of Mas, Pape, Nyanga, Picamoles, Forfana and Huget but are they the complete package and likely champions? It’s hard to call but the tournament has set itself up intriguingly for the third round of fixtures.