Wow did I get humbled over the weekend with 2 of my 3 predictions being flat out wrong. My last prediction being vaguely close to what I said but that’s about as close as I got. This weekend really changed up the shape of the table making the final 2 rounds very spicy.
France v Scotland
This was a game of French youth and flare, and a Scotland team very similar to the teams of the mid 00’s with plenty drive up front but no stars in the backline. France played the most of this game with a real determination and direction only showing flashes of the lost puppies that were present 2 weeks ago. To me the real differences were Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Demba Bamba – these 3 are real shining lights in the darkness that is French rugby at the moment.
The effort from those three and the rest of the French meant the team never looked like they were going to be beaten even with their countless errors both forced and unforced errors. Scotland never looked like they had a hold of the game with their structure disappearing after 1 or 2 phases letting France get away with murder. This game was as much won by France being very good as much as it had to do with Scotland not turning up on the day. Credit to France though as they played eight and a half minutes extra to get the bonus point try. France 27-10 Scotland.
Wales v England
This was set up to be the game of the weekend and it did not disappoint. Don’t let the low scoring first half fool you as it was a closely fought game with huge tension between the two teams spilling over on a couple of occasions. England scored the first try from the great vision of Tom Curry picking the ball from the side of the ruck and darting through over the line. Gareth Anscombe had a solid day on the pitch but the change that Dan Biggar brought to the game was huge for Wales with his sharp passing and kicking skills making the overall difference.
That’s not to take credit from any one else on the Welsh squad, each player played out of their skin today for their country. England didn’t do much wrong. They played like they have for the whole tournament which gave Wales plenty of time to analyse their plays and devise counter-measures for them. Wales played a very well-planned game slowing down ball from the ruck and putting pressure on the English pack as Ben Youngs affected the standard of ball being delivered to the back line. In the end England lacked the discipline conceding 3 times the amount Wales did this kept them putting points on the board mounting the pressure and taking their chances when they came. Wales 21-13 England.
Italy v Ireland
This match was played at an amazing pace from the kick off with Italy trying to catch Ireland off guard. This had merit in the idea but Italy couldn’t quite finish off any chances that they got. Ireland were the first to score with Quinn Roux charging over the line in the 10th minute this was followed by Italy scoring a penalty shortly after. After the kick off was taken Jacob Stockdale recovered the kick and was over the try line just a minute later. The rest of the first half was Italy’s time to shine as they added another 2 tries from Padovani and Morisi with a penalty from Allen to put Italy in the lead at the half.
Ireland came out in the second half with a look that said ‘I need to win and go home’! This started taking form when Keith Earls crossed the line in the 50th minute and Murray crossed in the 66th minute with Murray converting both to seal the game for Ireland. This game isn’t as straight forward as I write it as Italy played a great match with stand out performances from Dean Budd and Braam Steyn. The true star for Italy was the 9 Tito Tebaldi who created havoc at the ruck and in loose play today really splitting the Irish defense. Sadly, however, Italy are still lacking that finishing power to win games. Ireland struggled but won on the day and got the bonus point to help their chances in the overall standings. Italy 16-26 Ireland.
- The deciding factor in every game this weekend came down to one point and that was discipline. Every game you look at this weekend was decided by who had the better discipline something Wales proved as did Ireland and France all having the lower penalty count.
- France have a half pairing that work great together and show tremendous flare and vision in attack while being solid in defense. This of course is Ntamack and Dupont. These two are the future of French rugby and I hope that the French aren’t too blind to see this.
- Scotland look lost without Russell and Hogg at the helm as Greg Laidlaw is left to steer the ship on his own. This, plus the fact they have already hemorrhaged all the players we have mentioned before, it has left Scotland structure-less and lacking direction.
- England missed that physicality provided by Maro and Mako. It really showed as Wales seem to out muscles them on the day. This can’t all be put down to England’s poor performance as England played a very solid game with great defense but when the pressure came on it the last 20 minutes England lacked cool calm heads on the pitch.
- Italy have proven to be a lot more of a threat than most people will admit, playing with some impressive style and strength today. They dominated Ireland in the 2nd quarter of the game with great pressure from their attacking structure. All they need to do now is work on the discipline and they will be the real deal.
- There are only two words to describe the Irish performances of late and they are ‘rusty’ and ‘frustrated’. They don’t seem to be playing the free flowing rugby of last year and you can see they know this from the frustration on their faces. Jonny Sexton being the most obvious example with him throwing a little tantrum when he was substituted in the 77th minute.
This weekend was so exciting that it was a struggle to get all the rugby in with Super Rugby, Top 14, Pro14 and the English Premiership. In my eyes there was no better rugby that the 6 Nations though.