Posted in Sport & Fitness

Swing Low – Six Nations Preview

I’m afraid that fans of George’s expert rugby analysis are going to be disappointed this week. We didn’t watch any rugby on Saturday and during the first half of the England game he gave me a look that said ‘this is rubbish Daddy, I’m having a nap’. He made the right choice and slept right through until his dinner. England forgot about everything I have praised them for in previous posts and were lucky to scrape through with a win. The decision making was particularly poor and for the first time the bench failed to make an impact. This is not a performance that would win the Grand Slam and I hope it was a slap in the face for the England players and coaching team.

George and I may have missed the rugby this weekend but we are both excited about Grand Slam decider on Saturday. We have made this post into a preview and to celebrate we decided to start swinging low early in preparation for the big game.

For a while there has been an inevitability about Wales recovering their form to pip England to the Six Nations title but the momentum has shifted so far that Wales should start as favourites. If England are to win then these are the areas I would like to see them target.

The Breakdown – Obvious as this is where most modern rugby games are won and lost but it will take even more prominence on Saturday. England generated quick ball and retained possession well against Scotland but have gradually lost their way. If Warburton is returning to form then the whole team needs to be clearing out quickly and precisely to stop the threat he poses. I would also like to see a greater ball carrying threat from England as only Mako Vunipola and Tom Youngs had an impact against Italy. In the absence of the injured Morgan I would bring in Billy Vunipola, move Woods to the blind and Haskell to the bench to balance out the back row. Get the ball carriers over the gain line and ruck over.

When England are defending there is arguably even more work to do. In the autumn internationals, Wales forgot how took look after the ball, getting turned over easily and I still think this is an area of weakness. Delivery from Phillips has been slow and if he can be successfully targeted it is unlikely that Wales will ever get on the front foot. I would also retain Danny Care at scrum half to snipe around the rucks and create opportunities from turnover ball.

Counter Attack – I would like to see Lancaster pick a back three that is more adept at counter attacking and able to cause havoc in broken play. Ashton doesn’t seem to be running the support lines he used to find so naturally and I don’t think I have seen Goode beat a man yet. I would move Brown to his more natural position of full back and bring in Foden and Strettle on the wings to provide the cutting edge. Neither Cuthbert nor North are great in defence and can be turned inside out by nimble runners.

Tactical Kicking – If England spend the game kicking to Leigh Halfpenny then they are going to have a bad time. He counter- attacks well, is cool under pressure and can kick like a rocket. There needs to be variation and direction to the kicking game and if they can turn the wingers around or force forwards to retrieve the ball it will keep the pressure on Wales.

Is History Repeating Itself?

I can’t blog about Wales snatching the grand slam from England without talking about that try by Scott Gibbs at Wembley. If you can remember it like it was yesterday then you may be shocked to find out it was 14 years ago. I can now watch this clip without pain and marvel at what a fantastic player Scott Gibbs was. He wasn’t the only superb player on the pitch that day; Wales boasted the talents of Gareth Thomas, Neil Jenkins, Rob Howley with the sublime Scott Quinnell at number 8. England weren’t short of talent either and took to the field with the ultimate back row of Dallagio, Back and Hill packing down with Leonard and Johnson plus a young Jonny Wilkinson at inside centre.

If you look at the team sheets for Saturday there aren’t many players you would rank alongside those players from ‘99. Most of them still have time to burn their way into the hearts and minds of the rugby faithful but realistically most of them won’t. We are watching an inexperienced English side that is still finding its feet taking on a flawed Welsh side, lacking any strength in depth. Their position at the top of the table has as much to do with the failings of the other side in the Six Nations as it has to their collective abilities. We haven’t seen a classic tournament and I doubt many Southern hemisphere sides will be feeling threatened.

I don’t want end on a low note as George and I will be very excited come Saturday afternoon and looking forward to a tense game of rugby. I hope both sides play to their potential and this time someone remembers to tackle Scott Gibbs.

Who do think will win? Can England raise their game? Will home support be a decisive factor? Do you still have flash backs about being pinned to the wall by a drunken Welshman in 1999? Comments in the box below.

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3 thoughts on “Swing Low – Six Nations Preview

  1. Agreed that this has been a tournament where the teams have been below par. England have been the pick of a bad bunch: and while Wales have come back into form, that form has been a return to the security of a conservative gameplan that is formidable in defence, one-dimensional in attack.

    At the start of the tournament, I thought Wales were bolted on for fourth. In the autumn we were doing the basics terribly; losing the ball in the tackle, dropping the ball in play, showing no ambition out wide and looking fallible up front. I thought then it was down to Howley: now I’m inclined to think it a matter of match preparation. These players either play sporadically in a second rate league or they are finding it difficult to settle in a first rate, foreign league.

    What Wales do well, however, is grow as a group towards a goal with the first-rate players that they do have. In tournament play, I wouldn’t swap Wales’ first XV for another in the Northern Hemisphere. Another real strength is that Wales know their game plan, and they know that (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) it works. This settled feel, this comfort with their game, meliorates their relative problem with strength in depth because everyone knows what’s required of them and newbies come into a clear framework that, let’s face it, has been successful. England, I feel, are still coming to terms under Lancaster of a lack of continuity that has plagued England since Robinson and denied the squad. That’ll change over the next two years.

    On Saturday Wales must be favourites, though they haven’t shown the Kiwi-beating brilliance England have. It won’t be pretty, I’d wager. Wales will play a tactical kicking game and a tight defence, with the hope of sending North, Cuthbert and the Doctor through some holes at opportune moments. I think England need to ignore the calls to loosen up and instead play limited, brutal, finals rugby and if they do that to their capability the match will hang in the balance. Kick to the corner, screw up Welsh heads with that fallible lineout; gain parity in the scrums; and pressurise a centre partnership that simply hasn’t gelled by sending big men up the middle. Don’t look for the big breakthrough- just take the points. That’s be my call if I was Lancaster. England have the team to win ugly.

    A prediction? Wales by 5, but let’s face it, this is a game where anything can happen.

    By the by, to close, I was at Wembley– another home game for Wales, lest anyone forget. I went with a chap called Kevin Jaggs, and was horribly ungracious about the win, while wearing a hat with a toy dragon stitched to the top of it. The agony and the ecstacy…

    1. I find myself nodding in agreement with most of what you are saying. I do think you are missing a very important Welsh strength and that is their ability to build momentum. If they score a try it frequently leads to a period of sustained pressure that builds into the sort of momentum that very few sides can live with. I think their biggest weakness is that the majority of the first rate players you talk about are badly out of form and not gelling with some of the new players around them.

      If England can control the breakdown then they will win, nothing is more important than this. I would agree that they need to play tighter not more expansively and my desire for a more effective back three is so they finish their chances. My biggest fear is aimless kicking allowing Halfpenny to counter attack or booting it back over their heads.

      It will be close and as both sides are struggling to score tries it will be hard to come back from being more than a converted try behind.

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