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Gareth Thomas Exclusive: Ireland will lift the trophy but England are the best team

Wales legend talks about the climax of the 2014 Six Nations with Ireland, England and France (sort of) still in the running

by Gareth Thomas | March 14, 2014

mikebrown

Italy v England

Saturday 12.30pm – Stadio Olimpico

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England have been impressive throughout the tournament. They had a bad start losing in Paris to France but if it wasn’t for one lucky break at the end they’d have a 100% record going in to this game. This weekend they’re going against the weakest team and with the potential of being championship winners, for me there’s only one outcome.

Having brought Manu Tuilagi back in, he’ll start on the bench and most likely be brought on at some stage, so he’s got a point to prove. England are going there on a massive high. Italy on the other hand haven’t won a game so they’re going to be down on confidence. Even though it’s the last game I don’t fancy them to improve anywhere near enough to beat England in this form. They simply don’t have the talent and commitment to match England.

In terms of winning the championship playing first is a disadvantage. They know they have to win and they know they have to score a lot of points but they don’t know how many. If you have to score a certain amount it’s a big advantage knowing exactly how much. Ireland are without a shadow of a doubt in the driving seat.

England will go there with something of a split mindset, knowing they have to get the win first and then try to rack up a big score. It all depends on how quickly they can gain a game-winning advantage before being comfortable enough to really push on and increase the score. By the time you stretch to a 15-point lead you’re probably not going to lose the game but it all depends on how quickly they can get that kind of lead.

The sweet chariot is really starting to swing

If someone asked me who I thought was the best team in the tournament I would have to say England. What they’ve done is to get progressively better with every game. They are definitely on an upward curve. As good as Ireland have been they have plateaued whereas England have gradually built up the momentum. Stuart Lancaster said he’s in it for the World Cup and the way they’re going, having started the Six Nations okay and getting progressively better, I’d say he’s right on course.

I was at the game on Saturday and I was seriously impressed and with the blend of youth and experience, they’re able to play in many different ways.

Having so many young players is working in England’s favour, they’re going out there and they’re not afraid to try new things and it’s really coming off for them at the moment.

Without a shadow of a doubt Mike Brown has been the player of the tournament, especially against Wales on Saturday. The amount of times he’s bringing the ball back, breaking the first line of defence and breaking tackles. Defences usually dictate the way the game is played so you don’t usually see too many missed tackles but the amount of defenders he has beaten has been amazing. He’s been on the fringe for a while but he’s hitting his best form. He’s been a big factor in England being able to get on the front foot and he’s chaging the way they can play. Teams won’t be so keen to kick to England because they know they’re going to be counter-attacked. Brown has to be the first name that goes on the team-sheet.

wales

Wales v Scotland

Saturday 2.45pm – Millenium Stadium

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There isn’t any real chance of Scotland causing an upset here. Their coach Scott Johnson used to coach Wales. Naturally he’s got a massive insight in to how the Welsh play and how they react to certain things. So Scotland should come to Cardiff well prepared.

However the fact that the couldn’t beat France, in one of the worst French performances I’ve ever seen, that doesn’t say a lot about Scotland. It was a terrible French performance and yet they still won at Murrayfield. Yes it was a narrow loss but it was against a very poor French team at home and has to be considered a very disappointing result.

Profiting from being ‘pennyless

Leigh Halfpenny will be a big loss. That bein, the Welsh backline now have to bring something different because they don’t have Halfpenny to keep the scoreboard ticking over. It should mean they go for touch more than kicking for goal because they won’t have the range and accuracy of kicking Halfpenny brings to the team. With just four tries in the tournament so far they could double that total in this game.

odriscoll

France v Ireland

Saturday 5pm – Stade de France

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I both think and really hope Ireland can win in France. It’s Brian O’Driscoll’s final game and what a fitting end it would be for one of the greatest men to ever play rugby.

With that incentive and with how disorientated and clueless France are at the moment it’s Ireland’s game to lose. Ireland have been the masters of playing the opposition and understanding the opposition this year. Ireland will go there with a gameplan and they’ll stick to it.

Ireland are just that much better than France this year. France are so disorientated and with what is riding on the game for Ireland, it’s almost written in the stars for Ireland to go there and win. Playing for the championship, they haven’t won there for 41 years and it’s Dricco’s final game in a green shirt.

France are always something of an unknown quantity, you can never be too sure what they’re going to bring. Against England and Wales where you go in with the tactic of trying to strangle their play and then execute your style. To go to Paris and worry about what France are going to do is pointless because you just don’t know what they’re going to bring. Especially this year. So Ireland will focus on how they want to play, what areas they’re going to play in and just execute that. If they do that, they’ll win.

Having known Drico, playing with and against him, he’ll treat it like any other game and give his all as he always does. He’s such a professional and that’s why he’s earned so many caps.

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