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Gareth Thomas Exclusive: Wales to build on their greatest ever performance, Ireland to bounce back but England look set to take the crown

by Gareth Thomas | March 20, 2015

The worst part of the Six Nations is when you get to the end of it and you’re playing for nothing.

You become someone who’s just making up the numbers and you don’t want that. You want to have a purpose. Playing for something is easier and more motivating than playing for nothing, which is what some of the teams are doing this weekend.

That’s the great thing about the Six Nations in a way, there’s still a rivalry even if there’s nothing to play for as far as the championship goes. So Scotland against Ireland will still be fiercely fought because there’s a lot of pride to play for.

The only game this weekend without a real rivalry and with nothing to play for are the Italians but even then they’re at home.

England have the advantage because they play last so they’ll know exactly what they have to do. People are asking can Wales do it or can Ireland do it but do what? Neither side knows what they have to do. They know they have to win and do so with a convincing victory but by how much nobody will know until the very final ball is kicked in the England-France game.

I understand why the games are staggered for tv ratings, so people can watch all three games but ultimately nobody should have the advantage.  All three games should be played at the exact same time.

This way definitely gives England the advantage. Wales and Ireland can go out and do whatever they can but they won’t know what they need to do. England will.

Italy v Wales, Saturday 12.30pm

Italy now play in the Stadio Olimpico whereas they used to play in the Stadio Flaminio which was a pretty hostile environment. The Olympic stadium suits away teams going there because it’s not very hostile, you don’t feel intimidated there like you did at the much smaller Stadio Flaminio.

I think the fact that Wales have to win by a big margin adds to it.  Wales haven’t really opened up and cut loose yet but with the fact that they know they have to and being in such a good position following on from last week I do feel that they’re capable of going out there and winning by a pretty big margin. I think they’re 26 points better than Italy but beyond that it’s just about how much more than can add on.

The most impressive thing about the Wales performance against Ireland was the winning mentality that they have.


GeorgeWilliams

You could sense in Wales in the build up to the game that it was going to be a huge atmosphere and the players dealt with it amazingly. They delivered what the fans wanted and even expected. To be able to deliver a big performance when it’s expected, and even exceed it, when they were playing without a shadow of a doubt the best team in Europe for the last couple of years is impressive.

Jonny Sexton isn’t a player who is suddenly going to start making mistakes and missing tackles overnight. This Welsh team stopped Ireland’s big players from performing. That comes down to the mentality, not just the tackling but making big, big fucking hits that mentality intimidated the best team in Europe. Intimidated them in to making uncharacteristic mistakes and an uncharacteristic performance in losing.

It was one of the best Welsh performances I think I’ve ever, ever seen.

I think this Welsh team can look at that performance and take everything they need to take going forward because it was that impressive a performance. If Wales can maintain that level and even move up from it then that’ll be pretty amazing.

Not giving up as much possession to the opposition will be key in the World Cup. Ireland had a lot of possession and Wales defended amazingly but against a team like New Zealand, Australia or South Africa where potentially they have a little more ability, a little bit more creativity then you’re not going to be able to defend 250 tackles against these sides and win a game.

After beating Ireland I fully expect Wales to win by more than 23 points.

  • Alfie’s bet: Wales (-25pts) on the handicap: 10/11
  • Get all the latest match odds here: Desktop | Mobile

 

Scotland v Ireland, Saturday 2.30pm

Ireland will come back stronger following last weekend’s defeat. It’s not a team of all-stars or big-heads, it’s not a team filled with arrogance. If you’re hard-working and you believe in what you’re doing then a defeat like that should spur you on not set you back.

I think we’ll see a really impressive Irish performance against Scotland because they’ll be trying to get their game-plan back on track. It’s the last game of the tournament, they have something to play for, the World Cup is coming up, it was just a little blip . I think the mentality will be to forget about it and move on.

Against Wales they couldn’t get their game-plan going, I think Wales gave them something they weren’t expecting. We all know Wales can defend but I think the manner with which they defended rocked Ireland.

Sexton_handoff
As a result Sexton and Murray were outplayed by Webb and Biggar and I think the back three of Ireland were very quiet.

You have to admit that Jonny Sexton didn’t play well. Was it because Wales dominated or was it because he was trying too hard or not hard enough? Only he will know that but if you accept the praise then you have to accept the criticism. I’m sure when he and coaches and the rest of the team sits down and looks at it they’ll be honest about the fact that he, as well as others, didn’t play well. I don’t feel it’s unfair criticism. You set yourself a benchmark as a player and you try to better that, if you’re not as good as your benchmark than that’s when the criticism starts.

For me last week’s game was all about the coaches. I don’t know about Joe Schmidt being out-coached tactically but I think in the build-up to the game Warren Gatland gave his players more ambition and a stronger mindset to go out on to the field and perform with that ferocity. Maybe Schmidt thought he could outplay Wales in a less physical manner.

If you said to this Ireland team that they need to score tries I’m sure they could. When it comes to having to win or lose, these defences are so strong and tight that people are willing to give a way penalties rather than give away tries. Because Ireland’s pack is so strong they get a lot more penalties in scoring areas. It’s not through a lack of firepower that they haven’t scored as many tries, I just think it’s the dominance of their pack.

Ireland's pack

When you’re in a tournament your basis of every game is to win that game, if winning comes from kicks then you take it from the kicks. That’s why I think Ireland are so good because they’re able to play in different ways so they’ll understand that when they play the Southern Hemisphere teams they can’t just kick penalties. Potentially that’s when you could see a different Ireland.

It’s interesting to hear people talk about what Ireland need to do going forward having only lost one game, I don’t think they’ve been doing anything wrong so I don’t think they need to do that much more right. They just got derailed a little bit.

I think Ireland will come out screaming and they’ll easily cover the handicap. Scotland are playing for pride, which can only take you so far, Ireland will want to prove the doubters wrong after last week.

  • Alfie’s bet: Ireland (-8pts) on the handicap: 10/11
  • Get all the latest match odds here: Desktop | Mobile

England v France, Saturday 5pm

The one team you wouldn’t want to play against on the final weekend when you think it’s all about you winning is France.

They did play okay against Italy so they’re going to England on the back of their best performance of the tournament. It makes you wonder, whether they have another level to move up to. They do have the capability to upset England and I’m sure within their camp they’d love to be the team to go to England and upset the party.

England have played some really good rugby, they’ve unearthed some really talent and they’ve scored some really good tries. They’ve been quite entertaining to watch. They’re physical up front, they’ve been able to show some grunt and they came to Cardiff and won. It’s not just because I’m Welsh but any team that can come to Cardiff and win is worthy of winning a championship. They’ve performed well at home and away, out of the three teams that could possibly win it, if they’re capable of beating France then they deserve it.

The most improved side would definitely be England because they’ve introduced new talent. They’ve also managed to find stability with that new talent, so it’s not just a flash in the pan.

George Ford

The confidence they have in their backs is where they’ll win it. They’ll have parity up front, their pack is very strong and they won’t be shunted around or intimidated. George Ford looks so comfortable and confident at the moment and he can unlock the real danger men scattered about the back line.

They may not cover the handicap because they may not need to, depending on the earlier games, but they’re certainly capable of beating this French team by more than 10 points.

  • Alfie’s bet: England (-10pts) on the handicap: 10/11
  • Get all the latest match odds here: Desktop | Mobile

 

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