As we near the halfway mark of this years Guinness Six Nations, the outcome of the championship has not become much clearer. Apart from the matches with Italy, all the other matches have been won by the home sides. France are the only side now unbeaten, with the Grand Slam still within their sights. They have however, had two home matches, so their toughest challenges are still to come.
Week two went the way that I predicted with victories for Wales, France and England. In the first game, Wales deservedly won, but their performance wasn’t the step up that I expected from their humbling to Ireland tin week one. The game showed that Scotland, while making positive strides in many areas, are struggling to back up wins, especially on the road. They made the best possible start through Darcy Graham’s try and a satisfactory first half performance. I felt they lost the game rather than Wales won it in the second half. The second half became the proverbial arm wrestle, with quite a lot of kicking. Both sides started to play within themselves (especially Scotland), who seemed to adopt a safety-first approach and played not to lose, rather than to win. Under Gregor Townsend tutelage, this is not part of Scotland’s DNA, and looked very uncomfortable. There were many errors from both sides, but Wales had the more attacking mindset, which was why they shaded the competition and in the end the result. Wales in Cardiff with the crowd behind them did enough to win and re-ignite their championship challenge, while Scotland will go back to the drawing board and hopefully iron out the defensive lapses and lack of creativity they displayed for most of the game.
Onto Paris, and the clash of two unbeaten teams. In a game which Ireland never led, it was still a very see-saw match, especially with France racing into a 10-point lead after six minutes. At this point, it looked like it was going to be a long evening for the Irish defence, but Ireland struck back immediately, and the game was nip and tuck until half time. France won this game based on a variety of attack, showing the frailties of the last decade has been resolved. They had a very strong defence, along with the Irish, and both required a piece of magic or subtlety to break down the opposition. Like in Cardiff the home side came away with a deserved win, but unlike Cardiff the opposition could come away with lots of positivity in their performance.
Finally, on to Rome on Sunday, and as expected England had a comfortable victory, with Italy not showing the promise that they had the previous week against France. A five try victory, which could and probably should have been greater, if England had been a little bit more clinical and precise. Italy didn’t really show much to suggest that they will anything more than wooden spoon winners again. Though they will still be targeting their other home match against Scotland in week four.
Preview for Week Three
Scotland v France (Saturday 2:15pm)
Can Scotland make it three wins in a row against France, having scuppered their Grand Slam in 2020 and their championship in 2021. The French will come with confidence and a sense revenge in mind. This is a game, that if both play to their expressive best (and Finn Russell slightly more accurate), should be a cracker. I think that it will be the defence that will decide this game. If Scotland can sort that out, with the Murrayfield crowd, I predict that Scotland will win… Just
Scotland by 4
England v Wales (Saturday 4:45pm)
This will be a true test for both teams. Having both lost in the first week and come back strongly in week two, this is a very intriguing clash as to where they sit as championship contenders. The big question for Wales is whether they have turned the corner. For the plaudits they got in the deserved victory, I felt it was more to do with the Scottish mindset in the second half than Welsh quality. Whether they can do that at Twickenham, where they will faced with a resurgent England, who though not perfect in weeks one and two, showed enough to suggest that they should comfortably defeat Wales. The mix of experience and the development of Marcus Smith, who I feel is the future, and doesn’t have the shadow of Owen Farrell hanging over him, will allow England to push on.
England by 18.
Ireland v Italy (Sunday 3pm)
This is the best game for Ireland after their defeat in Paris. Joe Carberry keeping his place ahead of the fit again Jonny Sexton, suggests that they are going for an expansive game-plan. This should lead to a straightforward bonus point in Dublin. Italy will hope to be competitive, but they won’t be able to consistently beat the Irish defence and conversely the attacking intent of the Irish.
Ireland by 30.