Six Nations Round 1 – The Results
France 19 – 24 France
Scotland 33-20 Italy
Ireland 20 – 32 England
Game of two halves in Paris
Depending on who you ask there was only one upset over the three games. It ought to be have been two but Wales managed to pull the cockerel out of the flower bed and emerge triumphant. Most players and coaches talk about requiring a bit of luck and the bounce of the ball going your way so if this is the case then expect Wales to get no more good fortune until 2020. Or, in short France produced a rugby journalist’s cliché delight and just gave it away. Following a first half of sustained excellence from Les Bleus and one of misplaced direction from the Welsh the tables turned and whatever France touched turned to 7 points for the opposition.
We might suspect that Messrs Gatland and Edwards made some ferocious animal noises at half time. Meanwhile next door Jacques Brunel passed around the carbohydrates and the pastis. From the start of the second half whistle Wales upped their game. As, Paul O’Connell remarked half-way through the first half, all the Welsh had to do was to remain patient and France would do what they always do. As sure as Jiffy Davies would be biased in the commentary box the mistakes began and the comeback was underway before a wild pass from Vahaamahina gift wrapped what looked like an unlikely Welsh victory 40 minutes earlier.
Warren Gatland proclaimed at the start of the tournament that if Wales win their first game they will win the tournament. I suppose he would but after that performance I am not sure the opposition will see much to fear. However, Wales do improve with time and are unbeaten in 10 so anything is possible. A big round 3 game in Cardiff looms.
Creative Scotland & Improving Italy
Italy visiting Murrayfield was sadly only ever likely to produce one result. You can only play what is put in front of you and Scotland were good for the victory. A hat-trick for a winger always shows a team playing with confidence. Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg were both superb. However, Italy scored 3 tries in 8 minutes to bring the game back to a slightly more respectable score line. This shouldn’t really happen to a side with designs on a tournament decider in Twickenham in Round 5. Ireland visit this weekend in what is certainly the game of round 2.
Shorn of 3 of their top performers it was always going to be tough. Conor O’Shea has been talking of how much improvement there is throughout Italian rugby. From age group rugby to the Pro 14 sides being more competitive. A cynic would point out that things had to get better soon as it was very hard to get any worse. A romantic yearns for them to win a game. Just one. Perhaps a victory in Rome over Wales this weekend is on the cards? Bit patronising I agree but what else is there to say?
Predictions – a Fool’s game
To Dublin for the game of the round. Both in anticipation and in reality. England arrived a distant 3-1 to win and Ireland were given an eight-point head start by the bookies. In a two horse race this is as good as being told not to turn up. This is a silly thing to say at the best of times but to a written off bunch of Englishman coached by a couple of Australians and a kiwi? Very silly indeed.
Everyone in Ireland seemed to get the complacency bug with such luminaries as Brian O’Driscoll stating he wouldn’t swap anyone in the Irish side for an Englishman, Joe Schmidt only wanted Andy Farrell and Eddie O’Sullivan might take two players if he was put in a half-Nelson. Every paper had Ireland winning comfortably. Except Sir Clive who suggested England would win by a point using his favourite method: the drop goal and only then if they played as he said.
Well, that egg landed on a lot of faces. England were better in every single facet of the game. Right from the national anthems Rory Best looked like a beaten man, his brow furrowed at the mere thought of having to get stuck in against a terrifying English pack who were more intent on ruining everything the men in green tried. And tried they did – albeit the same game plan time and time again. Perhaps that is the problem when you have a coach so focussed on a playbook for all outcomes? If a team plays by numbers and encounters a side that just counts that bit faster then catch up will be the order of a long day.
However, as our man David in Belfast says, it is better that this happens now than in a quarter final in Japan. Ditto the disappearance of half back pairing Sexton and Murray. Missing without trace. Perhaps it might be time to rethink the Irish reliance on a box kick? Also, an early delivery of the age old lesson of ‘Don’t believe the hype’.
Ireland Beaten, battered and bruised
None of which should really be an excuse for how slowly Ireland recognised that England would start fast. They have made a habit of it recently. A very early try for Chris Ashton against the All Blacks in the autumn; an avalanche of early points during the Summer tour to South Africa, albeit in losing matches. However, it was coming and Ireland had no answer to the deep kick off followed by a few phases and a try in the corner on 93 seconds.
Nor ironically, was there any apparent plan to combat a far superior kicking game. Ben Youngs outdid his opposite man time and time again. Eliot Daly was more than a match for an out of position Robbie ‘I once played full-back on debut’ Henshaw; Jonny May was faster and more furious that Jacob Stockdale and Jack Nowell was everywhere all the time. Tom Curry was an nuisance at the breakdown as the game progressed. Henry Slade against Garry Ringrose? Only one winner on the day. Let’s not get started on the Vunipolas effect. We could go on.
In fact, if you were to choose a XV based on the two sides on display you would be hard pushed to find a green shirt in it. Not even Andy Farrell would get the job.
The only downside for England was a nasty looking knee injury for Maro Itoje. Even that could be a blessing in World Cup year. Give the man an enforced rest and let Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes take over. Hardly bad replacements.
A favourite moment from round 1? Aside from the great rugby a personal favourite had to be when Jérome Garces was heard lecturing Kyle Sinckler. Young Kyle’s response? ‘I am sorry Sir, I am just so excited’. A remark to perfectly encapsulate a great weekend at the rugby.
Ding, ding Round Two of the Six Nations is nearly here…. Predictions? A victory for Scotland, Wales and England. Go Italy! See you next week to relive the action and ponder over the results.