There’s a break from the hustle and bustle of barnstorming international rugby this weekend, so the focus of this week’s blog will be reviewing last weekend’s ties more than predictions for next weekend’s fixtures. The second week of the Six Nations has thrown up some extremely entertaining affairs and the results have started to allow the table to take shape. The efficient but not entirely dazzling English have gotten out of jail twice in two games now, the Irish have reinvigorated their campaign against a directionless Italy, while Wales and Scotland will be frustrated with their narrow defeats. The French may have come away from Week 2 with a win, but their unconvincing performances have left their fans feeling like their success won’t be long-lasting.
The first result of the weekend was a thrashing to say the least, with Joe Schmidt’s men taking excellent advantage of a narrow Italian defensive line for the first three tries and a tired defensive line for the other six. The display of Paddy Jackson was one that particularly caught the eye of fans who have grown frustrated at the near-constant absence of Johnny Sexton. The second half hat-trick by Craig Gilroy also gives Schmidt a difficult decision to make in terms of his selection in the back three. Arguably the three most difficult 3 games of the 5 are yet to come for the Irish, so selection against the French will be an indicator more than the first 2 games.
The fixture between England and Wales, while ending in an English victory, has surely given hope to Ireland, Italy and Scotland on where they could catch Jones’ side out. Wales’ determination and vigour at the breakdown made the hugely inexperienced English back row look lacklustre at best. If there’s one line on the field that Ireland have an abundance of experience and a plethora of talent, it’s the back row. One wonders how much damage the likes of Stander, O’ Brien and Heaslip could do on March 18th, if England are as depleted then.
The Sunday section of the second round of action took place in Paris, as France overcame Scotland in one of the most blunder-filled games of rugby I’ve personally ever witnessed. However, what it was missing in sheer quality, the result was never really assured until Camile Lopez popped over his fifth penalty of the game with 4 minutes to go. In terms of entertainment, the contest was fascinating, but it leaves us with few answers about either team. An injury to captain and influential half-back Greg Laidlaw will also cause the Scots a huge amount of difficulty in their next 3 games, because of the obvious improvement he brings (even if he did mess up a 15 yard conversion last Sunday). It stank of a performance by two teams that didn’t want to win this, but perhaps the victory will inspire the French to get their act together and compete at the level we all know they can.
The addition of the bonus point to the tournament has led to a situation wherein, after 2 games, there are 3 points between first-placed England and 5th place Scotland. Each country could make a realistic argument for why they could very much win, with the exception of the poor Italians, who have been found wanting in all categories this season. One would have to give the English the nod at this stage because they still have to play the two bottom placed sides, but as Scotland’s victory over Ireland showed, they’re well capable of pulling off an upset. A fascinating month ahead is in prospect.