Six Nations Round Two Preview
A preview of the three Six Nations clashes this weekend.
Post Comment|0 Liked It
So what did we learn from round one of the six nations? There was a new look England, the same old Scotland finding new ways not to score tries, a diligent but unsuccessful Italian side, a scary Welsh backs line, an Irish team all out of luck and a French team with plenty of je ne sais quoi. Wales and France emerged as the front runners with England still an unknown element. However, there is plenty of rugby still to be played and first up is the three clashes this weekend.
England vs. Italy
The first clash of Saturday and on paper the game that should be the most one-sided but don’t write this England team off just yet. Only joking, of course England are strong favourites as Italy have lost to them on every occasion in their 17 meetings and have lost by an average of 30 points in each encounter. However, nobody really knows if this England side is actually any good. The first positive is that Stuart Lancaster has picked an unchanged side from the one that battled to a victory of Scotland. Continuity will help massively particularly for the new caps such as Farrell and Barritt. Flood and Tuilagi will have to wait until the Wales clash at least before making a return to the England fold.
England were fortunate to beat Scotland with the Scots blowing so many try-scoring opportunities. However, the most important thing in the first round is just to get the result and England did that. The performance was probably on a par with the sort of performances that England produced under the Martin Johnson coaching era which is a positive considering this was the first appearance for the new bunch. England spent most of the game defending and they can’t afford to give up so much possession and territory to any of the other sides in the tournament. Scotland are by far the least clinical team in the tournament including the Italians. This week we hope to see what England can do with the ball in hand. There were very brief flashes at Murrayfield including a counter-attack that ended in Denton’s superb last ditch tackle on Strettle to stop a sure try.
The Italians may have been well beaten by the French in Paris in Round One but they are an entirely different beast in Rome. Last year they should have beaten Ireland and Wales and finally achieved a historic victory by beating France 22-21. Sergio Parrise has voiced his frustration at being plucky losers and for the Italians this is the best chance they have of beating England in a long time. The Italian pack has always been strong and with the voice of a home crowd behind them will be a tough animal in Rome. England handled the allegedly superior Scotland pack well last week particularly at the scrum which was a perceived weakness of England’s game. Under Jacques Brunel Italy are trying to play some more expansive rugby but against the French they spent far too much time going from side to side and simply running into a wall of defenders. They need to develop a more effective attacking game plan and suck more defenders into the breakdown before giving it to the wide boys. If Italy can establish some field position they will be a real stern test for the English boys. Aside from the Scotland game this will be Italy’s best chance of a win and they will come out with real fire.
It will be another tough examination for Stuart Lancaster’s England but I still place them as firm favourites.
The Edge: England
France vs. Ireland
This is the game that will receive the most hype this weekend. Ireland will be fuming after a heartbreaking loss against the Welsh at home and there will be no better medicine for this than beating the French in Paris. The French on the other hand will face their first real test to their Grand Slam credentials.
Ireland will be boosted by the return of Keith Earls to the starting line-up after he sat out last week due to his recently born daughter becoming ill. Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe also seem to be getting closer to their best and showed enough against Wales to worry the French defence. The Irish back row is still one of their biggest assets with the bustling O’brien, bruising Ferris and the indomitable Heaslip. However, the Irish have a woeful record against the French in Paris having only triumphed there once since 1972. Ireland have the ability to pull off such a victory but whether they will or not remains to be seen.
France had a decent performance against the Italians but weren’t exactly wowing the rugby public. Ireland will be Saint-Andre’s first real challenge as France coach. The French back three is perhaps the most lethal in the tournemant with Clerc, Malzieu and Medard all clinical finishers. If Ireland kick poorly and give them the freedom to run it will be long evening for the boys in green. The French also boast a strong pack with a world class scrum that got the better of the Italians more than once.
The back row battle should be another firecracker. Picamoles, the France No. 8, was a standout performer against the Italians and anyone who can relegate the great Monsieur Imanol Harinordoquy to openside flanker berth is a force to be reckoned with. Picamoles is a good ball carrier even if some of the Italian defending was a little slack.. The captain Dusautoir is current player of the year and will tackle until his arms fall off. He leads from the front and always seems to rise to the occasion.
The French scrum-half carousel spins again as Morgan Parra replaces Dmitiri Yachivilli. There is little to choose between the scrum halves with both being goal kickers and admittedly the switch has been enforced by injury. Julian Dupuy earns a spot on the bench. In the centres Fofana will look to kick on from a decent debut against the Italians and Gordon D’Arcy will still be having nightmares about his missed tackle on Rougerie in last year’s tournament which cost Ireland the game. Trinh-Duc against Sexton will be another intriguing match-up as both fly halves prefer to run or pass rather than kick. Saint-Andre is a coach the players respect and are actually willing to talk to which is an improvement on former coach Lievremont. They got to a World Cup final with Lievremont so who knows what they can achieve with a coach that they are willing to communicate with.
It should be a tight and physical match but both teams have the firepower in the backs for it to be a try-scoring affair. I can’t look past the French to win this one but with the French you just never know and an Ireland win wouldn’t be the biggest shock to the rugby world.
The Edge: France Slight Edge
Wales vs. Scotland
Wales showed with their last minute victory over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium that even with a forward pack decimated with injuries they could still carry some of their World Cup form over to the Six Nations. Their championship tilt hasn’t been helped with the banning (and rightly so) of Bradley Davies for the rest of the tournament. Bradley’s off-the-ball tip tackle on Donnacha Ryan was a sickening act. It had echoes of Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu’s spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll on the 2005 Lions tour which remains the most disgraceful thing I have ever seen on a rugby pitch. It is good to see the IRB is finally acting against dangerous violent play. However, the IRB needs to act soon and clarify what is a red card worthy offence and what is not. Referees and players are as confused as each other and it is difficult for players to know what is expected of them at the tackle area. For any onlooker Davies’ tackle is a cast-iron red card but with Sam Warburton’s infamous world cup tackle and Stephen Ferris’ tackle that cost Ireland the game the sanctions are not as clear cut.
Tangent aside, Wales can’t and shouldn’t slip up at the Millenium Stadium. They have the scariest backs line in the Championship with George North and Johnathan Davies particularly impressive at the weekend. Factor in that George North is only 19 and the state of Welsh rugby now and for the future is in rude health. When you have a team that can afford to leave out the mercurial James Hook you know you have plenty of talent. The front five will be boosted by a return to the fold for Gethin Jenkins, long considered a world class prop. Scotland failed to gain any real advantage over England at the scrum but they may have a shot at the lineout an area that France exposed at the World Cup and Ireland challenged for at the weekend. If both Warburton and Dan Lydiate are fit for the game Wales are only a couple of second rows short of their first choice team. Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones are still big absences but Wales should have enough firepower to do over the Scots.
Scotland has experienced a bit of turmoil following the dismal defeat to England. It was another classic case of throwing away another game they should have won. The concern for Scotland is that they still can’t score tries due to errors that would embarrass schoolboys. Wales have the firepower to put up a lot of points and the fear for Scotland is that they won’t be able to keep up. A lot of flak has been directed towards the now retired Dan Parks. He has drawn a lot of criticism after the England game and I believe unfairly so. His decision to retire leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Andy Robinson picked Parks for the England game and stood by him saying: “He’s my man.” Less than three days later Parks retires and Andy Robinson concedes it was the right decision. One minute Robinson is giving Parks the backing he requires and one defeat later Robinson has essentially turned his back on the player. It is disappointing to see this from a coach who has done so much for Scottish Rugby. Parks is an easy target for a few reasons. Firstly he is of Australian origin and many Scotland supporters doubt his real desire in the blue shirt. Secondly he has marked as being responsible for England’s try. However, he wasn’t helped by teammates giving him poor service and also a bizarre exit strategy that caused Scotland to lose a good fifteen yards before trying to clear to touch. His kicking was poor at the weekend and this has long been his forte. However, it is not Parks fault that Scotland haven’t been scoring tries and there are several games where Parks has won the game almost singlehandedly for the Scots. Only two years ago he forced his way back into the Scotland team, earned three man of the match awards in a single championship which is more than most players will ever get in their careers and in that same championship was arguably the fly-half of the tournament. He was probably the wrong choice for the England game but he has been a great servant for Scottish rugby and the way he has gone is an embarrassment for the SRU, we may never know whether he jumped or was pushed. He was an extremely popular in the Scotland squad but never managed to win over the majority of the Scottish fans.
With Parks gone Laidlaw gets his first start with one massive goal. He has to get the backs firing. When he came on against England he looked threatening but was overcome with a small case of ‘headless chicken’ disorder. Laidlaw has to provide a threat and try to spark some running rugby but has to measure this with a controlled kicking game and not treat it like a game of 7s. He has been the form 10 in Scotland this year and deserves his shot. Blair has also earned a starting spot after looking slightly better when coming on for Cusiter. Euan Murray also sits this one out for religious reasons. David Denton and Richie Gray were standouts in the game against England and will continue to try to push their Lions case.
Barring last year’s dour affair Scotland-Wales clashes often compete for game of the championship. They are not as hyped as other clashes such as the Calcutta Cup and often both teams play a good brand of rugby. In 2010 the Scotland-Wales game was easily one of the best Six Nations game in living history. A game that Scotland dominate for seventy minutes and then inexplicably managed to find a way to lose. If anyone needs a reminder then watch the link below:
If Scotland want to win they can’t blow their chances as Wales won’t give them as many as England did. Scotland created a few clear cut opportunities against England and blew every single one of them. Wales should be too strong for this Scottish side but they should never underestimate a wounded animal and wounded Scotland certainly are.
The Edge: Wales Big Edge
Get following the People’s Clubhouse on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Peoples-Clubhouse/166170260155599?sk=wall