After the excitement of week one, George and I were hoping for more of the same. Sadly the rugby couldn’t hold his attention and he even fell asleep during the England v Ireland match. This didn’t stop me from watching all three games and this is what I thought.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Italy enjoyed 62% possession and territory and had enough of the ball to force Scotland to make 146 tackles but were still well beaten. The speed and aggression of the Scottish defence was undoubtedly a huge factor in their victory but I thought the biggest improvement has come in their decision making. Last season they couldn’t have found a support runner if they played all night but on Saturday the willing runners were rewarded with simple, intelligent passes. This new attitude was exemplified with the try scored by the irrepressible Stuart Hogg. As the last man before a wave of Italian attackers he could have chosen the easy option and tackled the man with the ball. Instead he read the play, intercepted and calmly accelerated past the rest of the Italian team.
Crisis? What Crisis?
I wasn’t going to write about the Welsh but after reading Eddie Butler’s column in the Guardian I couldn’t help myself. I can see why there is cause for optimism as beating France in Paris is a very important win and Wales do have some talented players who have the capacity to improve their current form dramatically. However, some perspective is needed as that wasn’t a great French team they beat and you don’t lose eight games in a row then suddenly become world beaters. Wales have lost the ability to look after the ball at the breakdown – rarely getting quick ball and frequently getting turned over. When they do get the ball, the ponderous Mike Phillips is unable to add any spark or direction but this doesn’t make him stand out in a back line bereft of form and penetration. Critical decision making has vanished as anyone listening to Jonathon Davies’ commentary will know; the more he desperately implored the players to attack the space, the more they did the opposite. There is no strength in depth and with no Welsh clubs left in European competition and too many talented players stagnating in France this is unlikely to change. Maybe Wales can turn their form around but if the management agree with Eddie Butler and his rose tinted rubbish the less likely it will be.
Ou est les Bleus?
I tipped France to win the six nations and even after the loss to Italy I was expecting a return to form in Paris. Instead I witnessed a shockingly bad display that only left a series of questions. What has happened to their basics skills especially in handling the ball? How can you leave Trinh-Duc and Parra on the bench? Why push the skillful Fofana on to the wing in favour of that big lump Basteraud? What happened to the flair? Will the real French please stand up? I need answers.
Back to basics
The back to basics approach that Stuart Lancaster implemented last season is paying off. While Ireland were engaging in a collective buttering of the fingers, England managed to keep the error count low and the pressure on the opposition. Even the silly penalty count was restricted to one flick of the leg by Haskell. It is still premature to be talking about a grand slam and there is a certain inevitability about losing the unbeaten record when England visit Cardiff on the last weekend but Lancaster has much to be pleased with.
Player of the week
I could have easily nominated Stuart Hogg again but instead I am reserving my praise for two back row players. First up is Ryan Jones who has not let being shifted from back row, to second row, to the bench and back again get him down by putting in another solid performance. In the autumn internationals the majority of his more vaunted team mates went missing but he always put up a fight, never taking a backward step. In my opinion this is type of player who Wales need to cherish not players who grab the headlines for one sharp finish amongst 80 minutes of anonymity (yes I’m looking at you George North).
I also hope I have made it clear by now how much of a fan I am of Chris Robshaw. He may not grab the attention like McCaw or Pocock but he will top the tackle and carry count every week. If there is something hard to be done he will always do it himself – stepping up to take a drive off slow ball in his own 22 and hitting ruck after ruck. It was no surprise that when all England had to do to win was secure one last line out that he called the ball to himself. As the forwards closed around him he was still giving instructions to Ben Youngs to kick into touch. Great player, great captain.
Predictions for week three: Wins for Italy, England and Ireland.