And I did. After most races I am left with the feeling I could have run faster if only I had trained harder, better and for longer. This year I set out to banish this feeling and finally smash my running goals as part of the list of things to do before I’m 40. I could build the drama by drawing out the story but I should probably skip to the end. I failed miserably.
I found out that all little obstacles to training harder are still there and don’t magically disappear because I am approaching a milestone birthday. Motivation is still hard if you are essentially lazy and life tends to get in the way of training. Having a baby adds new hurdles as well. The colds my darling boy brings home from nursery really punch a hole in my training and spending the night before a race trying to soothe him while he screams with the pain of teething is not ideal preparation. To really make it hard I even managed to break my toe four weeks before a race.
However, there were highs. Despite running being relegated to my third sporting priority behind cycling and rugby, I still completed five races including my first duathlon and logged over 250km in training. I introduced two friends to muddy trail races and got one of them hooked. Admittedly it took me three hours to nurse the other one round the Kamikaze Adventure Race leaving her exhausted, filthy and bruised but she can laugh about it now and that is a triumph in itself. I also raised hundreds of pounds for Meningitis Now (formerly Meningitis Trust) and get a great deal of satisfaction from doing it.
So what have I learnt? I may not have hit targets but I don’t feel like they are out of my reach now the big day is approaching. I am in good shape and am already planning next year’s races and challenges. Turning 40 is not a cut off and there is no reason why I can’t run faster as I rumble towards my 50s. I have also enjoyed the social side of running much more and loved the camaraderie of running with friends. I saw a hashtag trend on twitter last week that was something like #reasonswhyIrun. I didn’t join in because it is too hard to summarise in 140 characters. It makes me feel good for so many reasons and I am happy to still be running as I plunge into my forties.
Last year I made a list of things I wanted to do in the year I turned 40 and now I am on to the big one. I have assembled the fattest peloton in cycling history and together we are going to tackle one of the most iconic climbs in the Tour de France – Alpe D’Huez. This may not mean much to anyone who isn’t a fan of cycling so I will attempt to put in context.
Height – The climb we will be attempting to cycle has 21 hairpins, an average gradient of 8.1% (very steep) and ascends a total of 1,150 metres. That is the equivalent to cycling up Mount Snowdon, getting to the top and finding you’ve got another 65 metres to climb. I am training for this ride in the Chiltern Hills, highest point 267 metres.
Weight – Most cyclists are skinny and as you all know, I am not. In fact I am confident that I weigh as much as Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome combined. I was considered asking someone to calculate how many watts of energy it would take to get me up the mountain but they would probably think I was taking the piss.
Experience – I have never attempted anything remotely like this before, have tendency to blow up when things get tough and I am nearly 40. I am being accompanied by three men who despite being my friends are idiots (they wouldn’t deny this). Not an ideal combination.
Why are we doing this? The primary reason is because we love the challenge but the secondary reason is because we want to raise some money for charity. Since George contracted Meningitis at birth I have been a supporter of the Meningitis Trust and the work they do to help families affected by this disease. George made a full recovery from his illness but for others the effects can last a lifetime. We hope you can support us and babies like George by making a small donation via our Justgiving page.
This weekend we passed another milestone with George, our first family bike ride. After inspiration from a post on the Babberblog and a few twitter chats I bought a Yepp Mini for my mountain bike. We took advantage of the sunshine on Friday afternoon and went for our first ride together. George loved being at the front where he could see what was going on and got very excited when his Mama cycled alongside us so he could shout and wave at her. From his vantage point he could easily spot the horses in the field we rode past although I think he was shouting ‘dog’ at them. I loved having George so close to me and he seemed to like stroking my leg as we rode along. I hope this was the first of many family outings.
This isn’t a sponsored post but if anyone is considering getting the same bike seat or similar then I would happily recommend it. When you put it on your bike it doesn’t look like you will have any room at all but it is very deceptive and George was lower down than I expected, almost like he was in my lap. I was also concerned about banging my knees or having to ride bow legged but that isn’t a problem either. I did have to keep my knees further apart than usual but it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. The only annoyance about buying this seat is that is designed for Dutch style bike with a long stem. I have a more modern mountain bike and need to buy a separate adapter which had to be ordered separately and took two weeks to arrive.
I hope this post inspires a few more parents to venture out their bikes and pass on the love of cycling to the next generation.
Even though both Warren Gatland and Stuart Lancaster tend to ignore our advice we are not going to be perturbed. George and I have put the underwhelming Lions selection behind us and have turned our attention to the England tour of Argentina. Although England have made great progress in the last year there are still question marks over the centre pairing, back row balance and counter-attacking ability of the back three. With this in mind we have highlighted three players we would like to see play in a developing England side for this tour.
Christian Wade – This isn’t a suggestion, he absolutely HAS to tour. Wade is easily the most exciting winger playing in the premiership, has scored 11 tries and a quick search on youtube will show how many were scorchers. His flat speed is impressive but his acceleration and ability to change direction in the blink of an eye is what sets him apart. You can’t watch him play and not think about Jason Robinson as he possesses the same fast feet and rugby brain. He doesn’t need space and has developed an incredibly knack of standing up defenders as they try to close him down. As he isn’t that big there will be inevitable questions about his defensive ability but I would prefer to have him in the side to coach that perceived weakness rather than leave him out.
Joel Tomkins – If common sense prevails and Billy Twelvetrees gets a decent run at inside centre then I would like to test some options outside him while Manu is with the lions. There are several candidates but as I’m a big fan of rugby league I’d like to see if Joel Tomkins can bring the quality of finishing he managed for Wigan to the England team. It takes a while to adjust to rugby union but Joel has played the majority of Saracens games this season, settled in well and even scored a few tries. He is defensively solid, fast and powerful which should appeal to Stuart Lancaster.
Matt Kvesic – Despite having a number of high quality back row players the one thing England lack is a specialist open side flanker. Steffon Armitage was largely ignored and I’m sure this is one of the reasons why he decided to play in France. Thankfully, Matt Kvesic has opted to play for Gloucester where I hope he will be encouraged to play with the freedom they love at Kingsholm. He is fast, links well with the backs and is powerful enough to be able to be a real handful at the breakdown. This clip from a recent defeat to Saracens shows him spinning out of a tackle before setting up the backs for a try then scoring himself from a more conventional forward route. I’d like to see England vary the team based on the opposition and having a player with Kvesic’s abilities certainly adds to their options.
My starting line-up for the first test against Argentina would be as follows
15 – Mike Brown (needs to be back where he belongs not stuck out on the wing)
14 – Christian Wade
13 – Joel Tomkins
12 – Billy Twelvetrees
11 – David Strettle (overlooked for far too long)
10 – Toby Flood (experienced player who can control the game and be a leader)
9 – Danny Care (should be first choice scrum half all the time)
1 – Joe Marler (big chance to show he can scrummage against formidable opposition)
2 – Joe Gray (more mobile than other hookers and deserves a chance to prove himself at international level)
3 – Alex Corbisiero
4 – Joe Launchbury (reputation took a knock in Cardiff and needs to show he can compete in big games)
5 – Courtney Lawes (opposite of Launchbury, needs to prove he is more than a thug)
6 – Tom Wood (captain)
7 – Matt Kvesic
8 – Billy Vunipola (injury to Morgan showed we need proven ball carrying options at 8)
I would take some of the more experienced players such as Morgan, Ashton, Foden and Haskell but I would give Chris Robshaw the summer off to rest. He may not be to Warren Gatland’s taste but he is a vital part of the England set up and has nothing to prove to anyone. I’d prefer to let him spend the summer on the beach and return to action fully rested.
All comments, thoughts and views are welcome in the box below.
I haven’t had a chance to speak to George yet as according to his nursery schedule he will be busy filling containers with sand and water right now. However, I’m sure he will be disappointed that Warren Gatland has largely ignored our suggestions for his Lions touring party and failed to pick seven of our starting XV. I could ramble on for ages about why I would have picked a different squad but I know George would want me to keep it brief.
Most bizarre omissions: Chris Robshaw (should have been captain), Greg Laidlaw and Rory Best.
Most bizarre selections: Conor Murray (how on earth did he make it?), Toby Faletau (not good enough), Richie Gray (badly out of form).
I have other concerns about certain players who are coming back from injury and may not have much time to establish form and fitness (Lydiate & Bowe) but equally there are some players hitting top form at exactly the right time (J Davies, B Youngs & O’Connell). There is enough quality in this squad to make a formidable starting XV. This is the team I would pick based those selected for the trip.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny
14 – Tommy Bowe
13 – Brian O’Driscoll
12 – Jamie Roberts
11 – Stuart Hogg (not a winger but far better player than other wingers in the squad)
10 – Owen Farrell
9 – Ben Youngs
1 – Gethin Jenkins
2 – Richard Hibbard
3 – Adam Jones
4 – Paul O’Connell (captain)
5 – AW Jones
6 – Tom Croft
7 – Justin Tipuric
8 – Jamie Heaslip
You have probably noticed that I haven’t picked the official Lions captain but as even Warren Gatland doesn’t think Warburton is the best open side flanker in the Welsh team why would he start for the Lions? There are two specialist blind-side flankers in the squad (Croft and Lydiate) and they are both better than Warburton in that position so I see no reason to start him there either. He is a fine player but I would only play him if Tipuric is not playing well. O’Brien is a brilliant impact player and can cover all back row positions so he deserves a place on the bench.
I will need to check this selection with George when we get home but I doubt he will disagree. I think the Aussies will be terrified of that front five, the back row can dominate the breakdown and there is real pace and invention in the backs. Time to bring on the Lions!
All the talk this week has been about who will play for the British and Irish Lions and, as this is a debate I love, George and I will happily throw in our opinions without being asked. I have been amused but not surprised to see the majority of former players and pundits picking a very Welsh line up, which is to be expected after their excellent performance in Cardiff. Amongst all the excitement of thrashing England, the eight match losing streak that ended only a few weeks ago has been forgotten. I also remember watching ten of the current side tamely capitulating to Samoa the week after being outplayed by Argentina only a few months ago. Wales played well but let’s not pretend they are all world beaters.
The other punditry obsession of the week has been banging about the importance of Welsh experience. Once again this ignores the other area where Wales have a wealth of experience – losing to Australia. At the last count it was seven defeats in a row including four losses in 2012 alone. I can’t believe the Australia players are having sleepless nights. Wales in the Six Nations could be summarised as having two dreadful games, one average, one good and one excellent. If you reversed the chronology of these results they would still win the title but far more of the players could book their summer holidays with confidence. Momentum is very persuasive.
I’m not saying Welsh players should be ignored but some perspective is needed. There isn’t a glut of talent across the four squads and players need to be rated on more than one game. Several players performed well in losing teams and others were poor but made to look good after being given an arm chair ride by a dominant pack *cough* Mike Phillips *cough*.
Before you read, judge and disagree with our selections there are few observations and caveats to state.
I’m picking purely on form in the Six Nations 2013 not reputation.
I’m not considering players who were injured during the Six Nations 2013. This means no place for Corbisiero, O’Connell, Preistland or the excellent Dan Lydiate.
I’ve not included players who weren’t picked for a Six Nations side which leaves out Armitage, Wilkinson, Sheridan and Wade.
I am English so despite my good intentions this is inevitably biased.
Very hard to pick wingers because no-one stands out; most were poor in defence and in the case of Chris Ashton the double whammy of poor in defence and attack.
Very hard to pick the back row because so many players stand out. This is the only area of the team where there is genuine strength in depth and some excellent players won’t make the trip.
Chris Robshaw has to be captain and anyone that disagrees will be spammed with the photo of me touching his thighslifting him in a manly rugby fashion. I think BOD is worth considering as he will always lead from the front. I wouldn’t consider Warburton as he wasn’t good enough to make the Welsh team as recently as two games ago, isn’t the best Welsh player in his position and his form has been patchy for most of the last year. Robshaw leads from the front, hasn’t let his standard drop once and that includes several MOM performances.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny. There are some very good full backs but this is an easy choice to make as Halfpenny was easily the player of the tournament. Assured in defence, dangerous in attack and tactical kicking provides a real edge. Reserves: Hogg & Brown (both selected for their ability to counter attack).
14 – Craig Gilroy. Shackled North with ease, looked dangerous even with poor service and doesn’t need much space to score. Reserves: Cuthbert (good finishing makes up for his appalling defence) & Maitland (but secretly praying that Tommy Bowe is fit).
13 – Brian O’Driscoll. Only one choice in this position, his pace may be gone but his vision, handling and determination still at its peak. Reserves: Manu Tualagi & Jonathon Davies (both able to make an impact from the bench and have real pace).
12 – Bily Twelvetrees. I realise that Jamie Roberts is a more logical pick but I went with Twelvetrees for two main reasons. Firstly, Roberts hasn’t set the pitch alight this season and is below his best. The main reason is a want to see the Lions play with the creativity and flair that 36 has in abundance. Reserves: Jamie Roberts & James Hook (far better as a centre than as fly half).
11 – Simon Zebo. He didn’t play much due to injury but selected for the same reasons as Gilroy and provide a real cutting edge. Reserves: David Strettle (should have been given more of a chance for England) & Visser (wasn’t great but best of a poor bunch).
10 – Jonny Sexton. Able to replicate his club form at international level theses days and if the pack can give him a platform he is the best man to release the outside backs. Reserves: Own Farrell (lack of experience stops him from starting but a good man to have on the bench) & Toby Flood (most creative of remaining 10s).
9 – Greg Laidlaw. Played under pressure for the whole tournament but still managed to be creative in attack and strong in defence. Third kicker in my starting XV gives further flexibility. Reserves: Danny Care & Mike Phillips (only in the team cos of Irish injuries and Ben Youngs tendency to turn into a whinging liability under pressure).
1 – Gethin Jenkins: Hitting form at the right time and will provide leadership from the front. Reserves: Cian Healey & Ryan Grant.
2 – Rory Best. Has the best all round game and plenty of experience. Reserves: Tom Youngs (impact sub) & Richard Hibbard (to start if Best is injured).
3 – Adam Jones. Back to his best and has the potential to appear in Antipodean nightmares. Reserves: Dan Cole & Euan Murray.
4 – Jim Hamilton. Had a great tournament and fills the role of enforcer completely. Reserves: Donnacha Ryan is the only other 2nd row with the same amount of snap so unless O’Connell makes a comeback this final place will probably go to Gray or Evans .
5 – AW Jones. Returned from injury with a bang and provides athleticism to match the brute force of Hamilton. – Reserves Joe Launchbury & Geoff Parling (two athletic line-out jumpers).
6 – Chris Robshaw (capatain). Equally good at 6 or 7, will lead from the front and never tire of doing the dirty work. Essential. Reserves: Ryan Jones & Tom Wood (both good enough to start but are sacrificed in the name of balance -take note Gatland and Lancaster).
7 – Justin Tipuric. Best genuine open side in the 6 nations who out shone his more famous team mate in every game. As happy hunting the ball as he is playing with the backs. Reserves: Warburton (starting to show some form) & Sean O’Brien (not really an open side but adds plenty of power).
8 – Johnnie Beattie. Impressive defence and adds ball carrying grunt to balance out the back row Reserves. Jamie Heaslip (getting back to top form and provides strong leadership) & Ben Morgan (great hands and a much better ball carrier than Faletau).
I’m sure there are some of you that are wondering why I haven’t picked George North and the reason is simple – I don’t think he is good enough. Since the World Cup he has only scored one more try than the widely derided Chris Ashton (3 in 19 games), has developed a habit of disappearing for long periods of time and his poor positional sense makes him defensively weak. Without the space to get a long run up he lacks penetration and has very little to his game apart from the obvious physicality. In short, the flat track bully has been found out. If any Welsh fans would like to claim that North is international class please remember that the last Welsh winger to play for the Lions was Shane Williams. Remember him? He was quite good and I bet that even though he has retired he could walk into this team.
We have surprised ourselves by only picking two Englishmen in the starting XV but I think this is a well-balanced and genuinely threatening team. Enough from me and George for now as it is time for your opinions. Please put all thoughts and selections in the comment box below.
Despite all our excited preparation, Saturday turned into a big disappointment for me and George as England were crushed by Wales. It seems that Stuart Lancaster ignored my suggestions from last week and Wales were far stronger in every area I highlighted, even finding time to demolish the English scrum. It was the sort of game where all you can do is stand back and applaud the Welsh for a job well done. We aren’t too down hearted as my pre-tournament prediction was for England to finish second (albeit to France not Wales) and the squad is developing well. I enjoyed the four wins and George is even more determined to turn himself into the all action, ball carrying number 8 that England so badly lacked.
I’m not going into too much detail about how each player performed at the weekend but this wouldn’t be a blog post without a little amateur analysis. In most of the news reports I have read there has been too much emphasis placed on the victory being down to how experienced the Welsh players are compared with their English counterparts. While there is some truth in this I feel the biggest factor is that Wales had a better strategy and tactics to attack England and delivered it well. The responsibility for not producing a plan to counter this lies with Stuart Lancaster and his management team. For no extra charge I am offering them the benefit of my wisdom for the road ahead.
Work on Plan B – England started strongly but as the tournament progressed each side they faced found new ways to target their weaknesses and counter their strengths. At half time in Cardiff they were still in the game and could have changed their tactics to turn the tide for the second half but were out of options. Tournament rugby requires you to be adaptable and to have more than one way of winning a game. This could mean changes in selection for key games or merely being able to change the point of attack to keep the opposition guessing.
Balance – Moving swiftly on to my bugbear of selecting players out of their preferred position, a crime Lancaster committed far too often. The back row and back three were the most obvious places where this imbalance created a weakness but there were others. In the second row, Parling and Launchbury are great athletes but both lack the snarling, dogged element to their game that players like Jim Hamilton and AW Jones possess. Perhaps pairing an athlete with an enforcer in the second row would add depth and variation to the pack. And as most people are pointing out the centre combination needs work as well.
Emphasis on Attack – I don’t think England should throw caution to the wind and destroy all the good work they have done in defence over the last year but tweaks need to be made. It is time to end the ‘Brad Barritt’ experiment and select a more attacking inside centre to bring the runners outside him into play. Wales kicked to Alex Goode all afternoon knowing he posed the attacking threat of a sofa cushion on the counter attack. I’d like to see more dangerous broken field runners like Strettle, Wade or Sharples on the wing with Brown or Foden at full back. Most importantly we need varied and innovative tactics to bring these offensive weapons into play.
Continuity – I’m all in favour of building experience and showing faith in players but sometimes it isn’t the right thing to do. Chris Ashton wasn’t done any favours by being continually picked when he was so painfully out of form. Some time back at his club may have helped in this situation.
This is the end of my sermon for now but when I get a minute I will be picking my British Lions team to take on Australia. Comments in the usual place.
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.
I’m now two months into my 2013 Challenge and I thought it was about time I posted an update on my progress. If this was a school report it would probably have ‘could do better’ written on the bottom but it is early days and I’m quite pleased with what I have achieved so far.
Year to date = 148.3km KM remaining = 1,954.7 km
Year to date = 28.6km KM remaining = 172.7 km
I am about a month behind schedule on my cycling and a week behind on the running but I always knew the winter months would be difficult. A combination of bad weather, illness and injury has blown a hole in my training and stopped me from getting out as much as I wanted. However, I am getting gradually fitter and I know I will feel the benefit of some of these cold, hard rides when summer comes. As you can see from the picture I have managed a few consecutive weeks of good rides and I know as soon as it is light enough I will be able to ride in the evening as well.
The biggest failure has been my weight loss. I’m not shifting the lard and I have given up weighing myself for now as I know how badly I’m doing. I wouldn’t normally be bothered by this but I know that cycling up the French Alps is going to be easier if I am lighter so I need to get my eating under control. I know what makes me fat so I have no excuses for failing to cut out the crap eating.
This month I will be concentrating on the running as I have a 10k at the start of April that I want to do well in. By the time I report again I should be ahead on my running total and lighter than I am now. The twin mantras for this month are ‘Run Harris, Run’ and ‘Step Away From the Cake’. Please keep encouraging me.
George and I didn’t really get to watch much rugby together this weekend so these are mainly my views. He slept through the Italy v Wales game, I was working for England v France and we missed the first half of Scotland v Ireland because he was at a birthday party. We did settle down with a beer to watch Ireland implode in the second half and I’m sure he gave me a look at one point that said ‘Daddy, even I can kick better than that’. He was right.
These are my talking points for the week.
Don’t Assume the Position
Anyone who has had the misfortune to talk to me about rugby down the pub will know I have a real problem with players playing out of position. In my eyes, if your first choice flanker isn’t fit, you play the second best flanker not another good player out of position. England took to the field with two of the back row playing out of position and it showed. They struggled at the breakdown in the first half and lacked a ball carrying number 8 to break the gainline. In contrast, France finally played Fofana in the centre and we all saw what he can do in the right position.
Plus ca change . . . .
Time for me to start repeating points I made in my previous post as once again the bench was vital at Twickenham. Haskell added balance to the back row, Youngs and Vanipola carried the ball well against a tiring French defence and Care kept the pressure on. The cheer from England fans that greeted Freddie Michalak is all you need to know about French substitutions. England stuck to the basics well and made fewer mistakes than France to end up winning comfortably.
On the Up
Leigh Halfpenny – although that should be ‘still’ on the up as I can’t remember the last time he had a bad game. It’s always nice to see full-backs on the gallop but there is much more to his game than that. He is defensively secure to the point of invulnerability and is able to kick with intelligence as well as ferocious power.
Scotland – After dominating the first half, Ireland were mugged in the second. Clearly spending 80% of the game in your own half without the ball gives you confidence as there was no panic from Scotland as they dragged their way back into the game. Meanwhile, Ireland caught a collective dose of the jitters and fell apart. I once delivered a kick very similar to the one O’Gara produced to detonate the Irish implosion whilst playing for the mighty Heaton Moor. After the game I was roundly mocked, nominated ‘dick of the week’ and made to down a pint whilst stood on a bar stool. I hope Ronan suffered the same fate.
Welsh Front Row – In round one I was going to write a paragraph about how annoying it is when Welsh pundits bang on about their ‘Lions front row’ when they are clearly passed their best. I’m glad I didn’t now, as although Rees has been rightly dropped, Jenkins and Jones dominated their Italian counterparts and set the tone for an impressive Welsh victory.
On the way down
England Back Three – Ashton is out of form, defensively suspect and prone to giving away penalties; Goode is solid but lacks explosive pace on the counter attack; Brown is looking increasingly out of place on the wing and yearning for wide open spaces. Something has to change.
Italy – It all should have been so beautiful but the Italian charge is crumbling. Any side would miss Sergio Parisse but Italy have also lost the flair in their attacking back line and even the fearsome front row crumbled under sustained Welsh pressure. It isn’t looking good.
As my prediction rate is in danger of dropping below the 50% mark they should probably be ignored. For what is worth I think there will be wins for England, Ireland and Wales in the next round.