The 6 nations is back this weekend and back with a major Bang!
Before the last round of games the Ireland vs Wales game was tipped to be the title decider. Unfortunately (for the Welsh amongst us) that didn’t seem to be the case.
Three pretty big games this weekend will change the shape of the whole tournament. Wales vs France, England vs Ireland and Scotland vs Italy will all impact the tournament in major ways.
Wales vs France
Wales will be looking to bounce back against France after a disappointing couple of games to start the tournament. Gatland, true to form, has stayed with the majority of the team, the only casualty from the Irish demolition job being Mike Phillips. Luke Charteris returns after a hamstring injury and should solidify the Welsh lineout (at 6ft 11 if he can’t there’s something wrong). The back row, which in my opinion needed to be changed, remains the same. Sam Warburton again captains the team despite his shocking record as captain. In my opinion Justin Tipuric must be the unluckiest player in the world, he’s in form, he’s one of the best opensides in the Northern Hemisphere but he’s unlucky that Gatland (stubborn as he is) has pinned his flag to the mast by making Warburton his captain.
I have to mention the bench too where James Hook must be close to breaking point with impatience. The inclusion of Dan Biggar alongside him (who can only play outside half) basically means that he will not be used at 10 and is on the bench only because he has the ability to cover every position in the backline.
France, on the other hand look more settled and are playing better rugby than since they won the grandslam in 2010. They’ve got a nice blend of hard edge up front and flair in the backline. Outhalf remains the major bone of contention in the team with Saint Andre seemingly unable to decide who to pick. They’ve looked good so far this tournament, with a last minute win over England and a comprehensive win over Italy. But they’re French, and as such there is always going to be questions over their ability to show up and perform away from home.
There’s going to be some big match ups in this game. George North vs Bastareaud in the centre, the scrum is going to be massive and the battle of the back threes will be something special. If France can keep their discipline and not allow Wales any go forward ball then I can see a French win. However, in Cardiff on a Friday night with 80,000 daffodil wearing mad taffs screaming hyms and arias I can see Wales making a proper fight of it. I think this will go to the wire with the Cardiff factor seeing Wales win by 2-3 points.
England vs Ireland.
This is my match of the weekend. I think this is going to be a war. I don’t expect anything too flash from either team but it will be intense, gripping, a battle. From Ireland’s point of view they have to win to keep up the chance of a grand slam, England have to win to hold to a chance to win the tournament.
Unlike that homophobic dinosaur, Neil Francis (if you haven’t read what this stone age cretin had to say about gay people playing sport you should go check it out here) I don’t think Ireland will “smash” England’s scrum at all. Yeah they’re missing Dan Cole but Wilson is by no means a bad scrummager and was seriously impressive when he played for England in Argentina last summer.
The English pack is settled, dominant and powerful. Vuinipola at number 8 has added the hard carrying edge that they’ve lacked in recent years. Their lineout is strong and they won’t get steam rolled like the Welsh pack did. I expect England to play alot up front. They’re not an expansive exciting team (they never will be with Farrell at 10 and Twelvetrees at 12) but they’re direct, physical and intense. Mike Brown at full back has been awesome so far this tournament and while they may not play the most rugby they’re very difficult to beat…expecially at Twickenham.
Ireland under Joe Schmidt have been more than impressive. They’ve played differently every game and that makes them a very hard team to beat. They can play the tight, physically dominant game (see the Wales game), they can play intense and expansive (see the New Zealand game), without doubt Schmidt will have done his homework and will have a game plan to beat England. O’Driscoll’s thirteenth and final test against England should provide some extra fireworks.
Again this is going to be a very, very close game. I’d love to say Ireland will win and I will say Ireland will win. But it’s going to be their toughest test yet this tournament.
And finally we have the wooden spoon decider…again. Scotland and Italy.
After an impressive start against Wales Italy were poor against France. I can just never see where they’re going to win games. They have a great (although aging slightly) pack but there’s just nothing outside of them to get excited about. A flaky (at best) half back pairing, unremarkable centres and a blunt attacking back three. Outside of the driving maul, pick and drives and scrum I just don’t see much of a threat from the Italians. Parisse is outstanding, has been for years, and carries the team.
Scotland…well…I don’t know where to start. It seems like every season before the 6 nations there’s an optimism around Scottish rugby that always fails to deliver. Terrible discipline, poor skills and a lack of cohesion. After their performance against England there were actually calls for them to be dropped out of the 6 nations.
Their pack for a few seasons was physical, they were defensively solid and had great discipline (think back to that win against Australia in the hurricane). But recently they’ve just gone backwards (if that was possible), there’s so much passion, and desperation to play well that it’s sad to see how bad they are. Vern Cotter must be regretting agreeing to take that job.
This game might actually be entertaining. Two bad teams playing against each other, desperate for the win might provide some entertainment. I think Italy might actually sneak this one.
So there we have it. Wales, Ireland and Italy (maybe) to win.
Anybody agree or disagree?