It may not have been the highest quality of rugby, but yet again the Six Nations delivered another weekend of exciting matches and a reinforcing of national stereotypes we can use to bash teams with for a long time to come. There’s a long way to go, but Round Two of fixtures will be crucial in deciding who still has a chance of deluding themselves into thinking they can win something and who can claim this Chanmpionship was mainly about blooding young players. Here’s a quick look at how those games might go.
Italy v England
England can be pretty happy with the win in Murrayfield, but would be well warned not to be too smug and well … typically English about it. They made their tackles well and largely kept their discipline, but Scotland were a finger-nail and/or a touch judge’s decision away from scoring a try. That’s worrying because conceding a try to toothless Scotland is the rugby indignity equivalent of a person getting tricked into sending their bank details to an African prince in normal life. Plus, although you can Charlie Hodgson’s block-down try for his hard work and endeavour, it’s vaguely troubling that England’s only try had to come from Dan Parks moving with the speed of a glacier.
Italy have similar attacking limitations to the Scots, but are more accustomed to hiding them which should lead to an uncomfortable afternoon for England. The Azzurri asked plenty of questions of France last weekend, but never looked like winning. The Italians will once again fight ferociously up front, but the lack of talent in the backs undermines the efforts of the more cauliflower-eared part of the team. Jacques Brunel will be stroking his glorious moustache plotting ways to improve that, but for the time-being, it’ll all be about dominating England physically and capitalising on any English errors.
Italy are more than capable of upsetting England at the best of times and Murrayfield proved that this certainly isn’t the best of times for England. They did what they had to do in the Scottish capital, but Italy playing in front of a sell-out crowd at the Stadio Olimpico for the first time in the 6 Nations is going to make things tougher than normal. England may just have the nous to pull out a win, but Italy with a handicap of 8 points looks very tempting.
France v Ireland
Based on the last three decades worth of trips to France, Ireland have roughly the same chance of leaving Paris with a win as a box of chocolates have of ever seeing the light of day after going into Vanessa Feltz’s dressing room. Any optimism of improving upon that dismal record suffered a double-pronged dump tackle on the opening weekend of the Six Nations. Ireland slipped to a disappointing defeat that didn’t even require a particularly heroic effort from Wales whilst France beat Italy mustering roughly the same amount of effort it takes for a casual Gallic sigh. Perhaps most worrying was the way in which France sat back and struck cleverly on the counter-attack after Italy huffed and puffed themselves out of breath.
Ireland’s performance against Wales was remarkable, but mainly for the fact they made Wales look like they were playing with 18 players for most of the game. They scored a couple of tries and had moments when they looked likely to click into a higher gear and leave the Welsh trailing, but it never happened and the last-minute kick in the nuts duly arrived. Declan Kidney is going to need to rediscover whatever motivational speech he gave ahead of the Australia game at the World Cup because Ireland will need a similarly relentless performances to get anything from the game.
Is there any hope of an upset? Well, there is some hope, but it’s more the faint hope a death row prisoner has of a power cut as he’s sitting in that chair. Going on history, France are easily the most likely winners and recent form doesn’t do Ireland much favours either. France to win and beat the handicap of -10 points looks depressingly likely.
Wales v Scotland
Operation Candy From A Baby worked a treat for Warren Gatland as he claimed another win over Ireland. They won, but did so in a way that wasn’t overly impressive. It was good, but much like someone in the middle of being tackled by Bradley Davies, we’re all wondering when we’re about to come crashing back to earth. Wales are good but really World Cup semi-final and Grand Slam contenders good? We remain to be convinced and possibly left dumber than normal when they romp their way through the championship.
It’s been a turbulent week for Scotland. Out of apparently nowhere, Dan Parks’ international career came to a shuddering halt like a Dan Parks’ clearance kick from under his own posts. It leaves the Scots lacking experience in the playmaking role, but they’ve got other things to worry about ahead of the trip to Cardiff – <namely catching the ball and trying to get it beyond that mysterious white line that runs along the same plane as the posts. Time and time again they tried to unlock the English defence and time and time again it looked like trying to knock down a wall with a pillow. They saw lots and lots of the ball, but couldn’t convert the possession and territory into points or even a decent hard luck story.
The game did show the Scots have got some exciting young talent to pin their hopes of brighter days on. You’d fully expect Wales to win the match, but covering a handicap of 12 points is a lot to ask, even if it is against a Scotland team with in the region of 5 world class players. Andy Robinson’s men on the handicap might be the way to go.