The second week of the Six Nations has provided us with a better picture of who will be near the top come March 15th.
Ireland’s second match was again at the Aviva Stadium, this time against defending champions Wales. The match was slightly overshadowed by recycled media garbage about a new ‘rivalry’, due to Wales coach Warren Gatland’s dropping of Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll in the victorious third test of the 2013 Lions Tour. Wales produced possibly their worst performance under Gatland as they fell 26-3 to the rampant Irish. It was a case of who wanted it more, as Ireland dominated the entire 80 minutes, as Wales were merely spectators.
The Irish gameplan was clear from the start; keep the pressure on the Welsh backline using high balls, and with one of the best catchers in the Northern Hemisphere (Rob Kearney) chasing, the benefits would always outweigh the consequences. The Irish rolling maul was also introduced back into the Irish game and was incredibly effective; the catalyst for both Irish tries. They did the basics well, whereas Wales were lacklustre, both with ball in hand, and on the floor, this was evident after 40 minutes as the defending champions conceded eight penalties, three turnovers, and struggled with their own lineout. The Welsh defence was stoic in open play, but despite this, nine missed tackles were added to the problematic statistics at half time, which including a ‘0’ on the scoreboard.
The second half wasn’t much better for the Welsh as the Irish continued to probe and wait for the Welsh mistakes, which inevitably came. Jonny Sexton controlled the game and kept the scoreboard ticking as Ireland posted 16 points before Wales eventually got their first three points through Leigh Halfpenny. Another Irish penalty and a final try from replacement fly half Paddy Jackson scored, with help from the Irish forwards via the rolling maul. Unfortunately a slight ‘brouhaha’ occurred after a wayward elbow from Liam Williams hit Paddy Jackson after scoring the try, with Mike Phillips adding unnecessary logs to the fire which ultimately left me a little ashamed and embarrassed as a Welsh spectator.
Ireland top the table after two games and confidence will be high but they still have their two most difficult games to come in England and France, both away from home. It looks as if they’ll be near the top at the finishing line but the chances of a Grand Slam are slim. Wales will need to improve heavily if they are to beat France in two weeks, Saturday’s performance lacked heart and fitness, as they were swept aside rather too easily. Changes arguably need to be made, most notably Mike Phillips, whose slow performance left Wales short on attack, his replacement would most likely be Rhys Webb, although under 20s star Rhodri Williams will also be in contention, along with Lloyd Williams. Captain Sam Warburton’s performance will also need to be question, after being completely outplayed by both Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry on Saturday, there will be calls for the captaincy to go back to Alun Wyn Jones, and for Warburton to be replaced by the consistently better Justin Tipuric.
England bounced back from last week’s disappointment with a 20-0 win away to Scotland, to win the Calcutta Cup. In what was an error-strewn display of rugby, it was England who showed that they were clinical, as Scotland worryingly posted a blank, after little penetration of the England defence, and two missed penalties from Greig Laidlaw.
England’s lineout was dominant throughout, as Dylan Hartley hit 20/20 lineouts, whereas Scotland struggled heavily, which fuelled England’s dominance throughout. England’s first try came through Luther Burrell, who found a gaping hole in the otherwise structured Scottish defence, which gave England a much needed boost on the scoreboard, as Owen Farrell also struggled with the boot. Scotland seemed to continue the tactic of the Dave Denton crash ball, giving them quick ball, but ultimately the lack of ‘magic’ was evident in the Scottish backline, as England kept them out with worrying ease, adding to the Scottish pessimism with quick play on the counter-attack with Mike Brown, Jack Nowell and the impressive and elusive Jonny May. Dave Denton’s opposite number Billy Vunipola also had an explosive game with ball in hand, complementing his lambasting runs with cute ball skills, which kept up the English momentum.
England’s second try came from yet more uncharacteristic Scottish defending as Jack Nowell was allowed to walk down the left, before feeding it to man of the match Mike Brown, who, like Luther Burrell, got his second try in two games. Scotland ended the game with an astronomical score, unfortunately, they were on the statistics board, under both ‘missed tackles’ (27), and ‘penalties conceded’ (16).
Stuart Lancaster’s men will look to continue their form into their clash with table toppers Ireland. A win at Twickenham, along with a Wales win at the Millennium Stadium against France, would put four teams equal at the top, finely poised going into the ‘business end’ of the tournament. Scotland coach, Scott Johnson, will be furious with Scotland’s ill-discipline and will no doubt want to improve on the scoreboard as they travel to Rome to face an Italian side that seems stronger than previous years, but still suffers from the same flaws in the backline. Failure to score a try in this, their ‘easiest’ game, will lump the pressure on the head of Johnson.
What was supposed to be a graceful display of rugby came across as a comedy of errors as the Merchants of Venice fell 30-10 to France in Paris. The first half, full of missed passes and wayward kicks; reminiscent of an under-12s practice match or a game of ‘hot potato’, came out in favour of the French as they led 9-3.
Fanciful French flair reared its moustachioed head in the second half as Les Tricolores put three tries past a faltering Italian defence, including a typically solo effort from inside centre Wesley Fofana. This long-awaited feat of brilliance from the French was cut short when Sebastien Vahaamahina decided to introduce himself to the Six Nations by getting sin binned after two minutes of coming on as a substitute. This, followed by a head-butt-off between France’s Rabah Slimani and Italy’s Michele Rizzo which led to two red cards, and headaches both for the players involved, and the spectators.
Italy got a well worked try though Tomasso Ianonne but it wasn’t enough as the French were much too strong for the Azzurri. France’s next game is away to Wales, who will look to improve on their poor performance against Ireland by providing a bite back against the French in Cardiff. Somehow the French have two wins from two, despite not playing well as of yet, so it’s possible that they are due a good performance, whatever happens it’s sure to be a cracker at the Millennium Stadium.
The Italians will look to get their first win of the tournament against fellow strugglers Scotland in a game that will surely be dominated on the floor and in the scrum. The loser of this match is more than likely going to end up with a wooden spoon to add to their collection come March.
Predictions for Round 3:
Wales vs. France – Friday 21st February – 8.00pm
(Wales by less than 7)
Italy vs. Scotland – Saturday 22nd February – 2.30pm
(Italy by less than 7)
England vs. Ireland – Saturday 22nd February – 4.00pm
(England by less than 7)