Just over half way through the Nat West 6 Nations, and with the exception of the upset at Murrayfield, where Scotland defeated last year’s champions England, and possibly the Irish defeat of France on the opening weekend, the games have gone to form. The home teams coming up on top in all matches except the Irish victory in Paris and England’s win in Rome the same weekend. When you look at the results of the teams, the only ones that would be 100% happy would be the Irish, having ground out an away win Paris, and taking try bonus points in their wins at home to Italy and Wales.
Looking over the Championship, it’s still up for grabs who will win it, with Ireland the favourites. They have won their home matches playing the pragmatic gameplan that they have become successful using. It is not a tactic that is for the purists but has put them in a good place, with the Rugby World Cup looming in 18 months time. They should defeat Scotland, who would then be out of contention for the main prize. Scotland have recovered well following what could have been a demoralising defeat in Wales in the first round. I didn’t think that they played that badly in Cardiff, and it would have been interesting to see what had happened if they had been within a score at half time. They had dominated possession without ever having threatened the Welsh line, who were clinical scoring their 14 points. Scotland bounced back with a grounded-out victory against France and the excellent victory over England. This displayed a tenacity and persistence that a few years ago (pre Vern Cotter) was missing and the type of defeat that they suffered would have led to a whitewash and wooden spoon. As has been said by various players, Scotland now have to show this style on the road, so that they can say that they have truly turned the corner in terms of performance and style.
England, it is hard to rate. They comfortably saw off Italy and Rome and flattered to deceive against Wales. That was a strange game. England looked on many occasions ready to put Wales to the sword, but in the end, they were a controversial TMO decision from defeat. Against Scotland, they appeared not to be ‘up for it’, though this could be disrespectful to Scotland. It was similar to their performance against Ireland when they were going for Grand Slam. When they were confronted away from home with a team that raise their game. They got past Wales in Cardiff last year with a late Elliot Daley try, but didn’t manage it against Ireland. How they react will be key as they now travel to Paris for ‘le crunch’ and that will not be easy. Can Eddie Jones instil the correct attributes to win there?
As for Wales, it is very much a question of ‘what might have been’. They could (should) have beaten England, and they were a late intercept try from pressing for their own try that would have won the game in Dublin. They have continued with their new style of attack, and had the breaks going their way, they may have been going for a Grand Slam against France on March 17th. They will be relatively happy with the performance but not the outcome, but as was said earlier, 18 months out from the RWC they will be content.
That will be the same for all the home nations at this point of the championship. I’d give Ireland and Scotland pass marks, and England a must do better. The next two weekends will be intriguing.