Below is the first in a weekly blog which will run for the course of the Six Nations Championship. The blog contains the thoughts of assistant chairman of rugby Gareth Dyer. The view expressed are his own and are in no way affiliated to PGRFC. We hope you enjoy his blog and encourage you to comment on it using the comments section below.
France 30-12 Italy
Scotland 6-13 England
Ireland 21-23 Wales
So the annual rugby showpiece is under way and as always produced a weekend full of national fervour, talking points and a number of possibilities as we head straight into the second round of games. For those of you who don’t know me, I better make it clear that I am a proud Welshman so I apologise in advance for anything bordering on the biased. I will try my utmost to retain some impartiality!
So before the weekend what was the feeling? My own view was that it would be a hat trick of home wins. France at home under the new regime of Philippe Saint-Andre would provide a reasonably comfortable home win over a battling Italy. Most people in agreement, straightforward. A fired up and mostly settled Scottish team would prevail against a new look but far too inexperienced England. Pundits seemed to agree, straightforward. And in what was likely to be the most interesting match up of the weekend, an Irish team hell bent on World Cup revenge would have too much at home for an injury depleted Wales. Again, the consensus agreed, straightforward. But this is the Six Nations and nothing is ever straightforward!
So what did we get? Well France seemed to cruise through the game against an Italian side that seemed to be better organised than in recent years under new French coach Brunel. With hardly getting out of second gear the home side scored some beautiful tries with Saint-Andre having brought some sanity to the French ranks. There was even a show of displeasure from the former Sale DoR at the end when Parra kicked the ball dead with time up when perhaps a more adventurous approach could have been adopted. Nevertheless the favourites were away comfortably and without depleting the energy reserves too strenuously.
At Murrayfield it was all about the usual suspects in blue against the unknown quantity of a new look England. Andy Robinson had urged his team to bring chaos to the opening quarter whilst Stuart Lancaster talked more in terms of pride in the shirt. The stats say the home side had 68% possession but huffed and puffed their way through the game showing the same frailties in attack that has been their calling card for far too long. As one wag put it Lancaster got his tactics spot on by suggesting the visitors just let Scotland have the ball. International rugby is all about winning and England did just that. We learned little about what style England may adapt under the new look coaching team but they will certainly be the better for coming away from Murrayfield with a win for the first time since 2004.
And so to Sunday. Again the stats of the game may explain the reason why Wales won. 60% territory and 60% possession for the visitors was not what was expected before the match but the physical advantage behind the scrum was. Wales created three well worked tries with George North electrifying with ball in hand. Ireland may kick themselves for their lack of adventure, too often kicking possession away when perhaps keeping the ball in hand was called for. Perhaps Ireland are struggling for balance in the back row without a true openside to link the play but in the end it was the physical dominance of the welsh backs that held the key. Yes controversy reigned at the end but as Declan Kidney said afterwards, perhaps the home side needs to right some of their own wrongs before looking at anything else.
So what can we expect from the second week? Well England will travel to Rome with confidence brought about by winning. Italy will fancy themselves to make home advantage count but can they score the tries needed to win at international level? Will we learn more about how this England team is likely to evolve in terms of style and approach? I think it will be close but the English defence was sound at Murrayfield and I think they will have enough to win again. It won’t be pretty but away from home it will be about doing what is required.
Game of weekend is in Paris on Saturday night. The Irish will need to stand up better to the physical confrontation behind the scrum but I expect them to come out all guns blazing. Ireland don’t have the best record in Paris and whilst it will be nip and tuck I think the home side will prevail in the end. Just. It could come down to the last few minutes, which would be very tough for the visitors to take two weeks running.
And Sunday sees the deflated Scots travel to Cardiff. I’ve a feeling they won’t mind coming to the Millennium Stadium. It is one place where they have been able to score tries in the past and they may be able to play with a bit more freedom. Wales will be expected to win after their performance in Dublin but I expect it to be close. I would hope for a Wales win but I don’t see it being by much.
So that’s my first blog for the Six Nations. So far I am one from three in the predictions stakes. But what do you think? You can post your views below so get involved!