The team selections are in so let battle commence!
After a week’s break (well a week for four and a fortnight for two!) we head into the third round (or delayed second…oh you get my drift on that one!!) of fixtures in this years Six Nations championship. So far I have a 60% success rate in my predictions from the five games played having predicted three of the five winners to date. Looking at the odds, pundit predictions and the general consensus then Round 3 should be one of the easier rounds to get right?
Hmm, I’m not so sure…
I’ll start with what would appear to be the most straightforward game to predict. The Italians travel to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to faceIreland, with prospects of a victory more in the hope category than expectation. Italy coach Jacques Brunel has made four changes to his starting line up from the England match and has selected Tobias Botes in the number 10 jersey. You may recall that Botes replaced the hapless Kris Burton during the second half in Rome and was a definite contributor to the implosion that deprived Italy of a first win over the Red Rose. So his selection to start must come as a surprise to most, particularly with Luke McLean again starting on the wing. With Castro the cornerstone ruled out with a rib injury then it would have to be a brave man to go for an away win. I’m certainly not that brave and I would expect the Irish to put the Azzurri away with something to spare. For Ireland it is a case of getting back on the horse after the loss to Wales and the nonsense that went on in Paris a fortnight ago. The Irish backs will not have to face too much of a physical examination and on the bedrock of a dominant home pack I expect to see the silky running skills of Messrs Earls, Trimble, Kearney and Bowe very much to the fore. Questions could also be answered about the fluency of the Irish game and whether the back row unit is the right mix going forward.
Sunday sees the French travel to Murrayfield, which in the past has not always been a happy hunting ground for Les Bleus. The Scots improved immeasurably last time out and have a forward pack that is certainly competitive if not yet a dominant force. As always with Scotland it’s about whether they can score the requisite points needed to win games at International level. The selections of Barclay, Laidlaw and Hogg are certainly a step in the right direction but the midfield again has a solid if unspectacular look about it. The loss of Max Evans to injury and with Joe Ansbro not yet fit to return deprives the home side of some cutting edge with the midfield seemingly lacking a degree of pace. The French line up is unchanged from what would have faced Ireland and is strong in virtually every department. Scotland will want to target Harinordiquoy’s ball winning prowess on the floor at the breakdown but no doubt Dusatoir will be on hand to assist his Basque team mate. The Scots will look to get into them early and put them off their stride. If this happens then it will be interesting to see what the French response will be. This will be a test of whether Saint-Andre has managed to harmonise things in the French camp. I will go with a French win but I would not be totally surprised if the Scots nicked a tight win.
At Twickenham two unbeaten side go head to head meaning something has got to give. Wales are going for the Triple Crown but have never won it before at HQ. All of the pressure has to be on Welsh as they go into the match as favourites. This is the acid test for this Welsh team. Can they win a big game when the pressure is on and when they are expected to win? Also can they bring a level of performance that allows them to impose their game on the home side when their light is in the ascendancy. The strong England sides of the last twenty years won these types of games with something to spare and usually had the game sewn up by half time.Wales would appear to hold all the aces with the return of Warburton, A W Jones and a fit North but the loss of two front line hookers will again raise question marks over the Welsh line out. Wales have a settled game plan but they must ensure that they play their game in the right areas of the pitch.
The England line up certainly appears to have a bit more thrust about it. The selections of Morgan and Dickson were widely expected having impressed in cameo appearances from the bench. The selection of Parling over an out of form Palmer means that there is no starting place for Lawes who takes his place on the bench with Dowson, Youngs and the returning Flood. The midfield was the biggest area of debate but in the end the (opportune?) injury to Hodgson made the selection relatively straight forward. Defensively this would seem a strong trio (as Wales would no doubt have targeted Hodgson in defence) but can they unlock the Welsh defence in attack? Is Tuilagi fit enough for an instant recall having played little rugby since injury? England having nothing to lose going into the match and any improvement in their attacking game will certainly get the home crowd behind them. They should be looking to attack Wales and if they do then we should know more about the “new” England after this weekend.
Prediction? I have to say Wales but I do not share some pundit’s views that Wales will “smash” England to win comfortably. As a Welshmen that would of course make pleasant viewing but I expect the game to be close with perhaps the visitors doing enough in the final quarter to win.
But they are only my thoughts. What do you think will happen?? Let me have your comments below.