George and I enjoyed the opening weekend of the Six Nations so much I have decided to pretend I am a journalist this week and list what I think were the five main talking points. If you would prefer some more informed commentary I suggest you read Nick Morris’ excellent blog, ‘Breaking the Gainline’. Here goes.
I have to confess that I didn’t watch the Italy v France game live as I wrongly assumed it would be a walk over for the French. From the highlights I can see how wrong I was. The win is made all the more remarkable by the manner of victory; finally the much maligned Italian backs show they can produce high quality attacking rugby and this time in a match that counts. Forza Italia!
Wingers who can’t defend
In the build up to the opening game much was made of the attacking threat carried by the giant Welsh wingers over their much smaller Irish opponents. In the end the massively over-hyped George North went missing for the entire first half and only popped up to be cut down with ease by Craig Gilroy. On the opposite wing, Alex Cuthbert was giving a master class in how not defend by failing to mark the winger then turning his back on O’Driscoll as he delivered a scoring pass. Scotland also boasted bulk on the wing but the game was less than a minute old before Tim Visser missed his first tackle. Maitland took his try well but was nowhere to be seen when Parling was romping down the wing to score. In all three games the winning side had wingers who could defend and the losers didn’t.
Big names go missing
Wales carried on where they left off in the autumn with a truly abject first half where the players with the biggest reputations let them down the most. Warburton was anonymous throughout and didn’t offer the leadership needed; how he can keep his place in the side while Tipuric is playing so well is beyond me. Gethin Jenkins showed how sharp you get sitting on the bench all season, Mike Phillips has slowed his pass down even more and Jamie Roberts was incapable of breaking the line. It took the new cap, Andrew Coombs, to show his more illustrious teammates how it is done and force his way into the game.
Power of the Bench
The key turning point for Wales came when Alex Cuthbert finally broke the Irish defensive line to score a try. His ease of passage to the line was helped by the powder puff tackling of Keith Earls who had just come on as a substitute. He isn’t a centre and was a weak point in the line for the remainder of the game. When Wales emptied the bench to try and win the match they could call on the excellent Tipuric and the solid Olly Kohn but beyond that it was only a third rate front row and James Hook running in ever decreasing circles again. In contrast, England added controlled aggression and greater momentum when they called on Haskell, Lawes and Hartley with added attacking menace coming from Care and Strettle. It is a cliché but rugby really is a 23 man game.
Player(s) of the week
Although Parisse and Orquera clearly had great games I can’t really pick them as I didn’t see them play. Billy Twelvetrees impressed me throughout particularly with the way he holds the ball – always with two hands, out in front of him so that you never know what he is going to do. I really hope he plays against Ireland with Tuilagi outside him. O’Driscoll was brilliant and Gilroy also impressed me but the player that really stood out was Stuart Hogg. His counter attacking breaks were a joy to watch and he always looked dangerous with the ball. In recent years, too few Scottish backs have had this much pace and skill and he has the ability to get behind any defence.
George and I are really looking forward to this weekend’s matches, there is so much to play for and the results are really difficult to predict.
Scotland v Italy – Should have been the wooden spoon match but there is no guarantee either side will finish bottom. Scotland look strong despite losing their opening match and have home advantage, whereas Italy having discovered enough attacking flair to beat the tournament favourites. No idea who will win this.
France v Wales – Both teams will want to bounce back after humiliating defeats. Which teams will turn up? Who can turn round their performance the quickest? I’ve no idea.
Ireland v England – England were the most consistent team and top the table so far but their record against Ireland in the last ten years is appalling (just ask my wife). It could go either way.
What are your views? Can you make better predictions than me? Do you think I should hide George’s Ireland shirt before the weekend? Comments in the box below.