Another week, another whirling round of Six Nations and three more fascinating games of rugby. The English were perplexed by Conor O’ Shea’s Italians, after Scotland shocked Wales and Ireland ground out a win against France. With another week’s break, the attention of this week’s blog is drawn to last week’s round of results. The top two in the table remain the same, England out in front with Ireland closely behind. Scotland have taken the initiative and moved into third, while Wales and France will both be disheartened by their respective positions of fourth and fifth. Italy prop up the table on zero points and the outlook isn’t exactly rosy for the men in blue.
The weekend opened in Murrayfield with the Celtic clash of Scotland and Wales. Having backed Wales, I was quite surprised by how they fared. Cotter’s troops made a tremendous comeback and it was a performance that symbolises the new Scots. In previous years, they would have given up at 13-9 down, but they’ve reinvented themselves and their new capacity for scoring tries makes them a genuine threat no matter who they play. While they might struggle against England, they’ll certainly make a game of it. The English themselves found themselves bamboozled by Italy last Sunday, whose defensive tactics took advantage of a rule that not even the English captain knew existed. Eventually they did overpower Italy to get a bonus point win, but it shows they very much lack a plan B, which will give hope to their remaining opponents, Ireland and Scotland.
Speaking of Joe Schmidt’s men, they laboured and laboured and got their rewards against a French side that never entirely looked like winning, but always kept in touch. The main few points to come out of the game were the outstanding showings by the half-back pairing of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray. There were doubts aplenty going into the game about the fitness of Sexton and how he’d fare in a full-blooded international game, especially given his lack of match practice in recent times. However, whatever doubts about him were quickly washed away in this stream of impressive kicking out of hand, off the tee and all-round game management. He was, of course, helped by the unanimous man of the match exhibition by his half-back partner Murray. He’s solidly continuing to cement himself at the top of the pile in terms of scrum-halves in world rugby. The work of centre pairing Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose can’t be overlooked in dealing with the French onslaught on Sexton. They made the hard yards and drew in players so Sexton would have the space to direct the game as he saw fit. World Player of the Year nominee Jamie Heaslip was also in excellent form, while his back row partners Stander and O’ Brien were key in winning penalties that led to gaining territory and also points. One wonders where the French can go from here other than back to the drawing board. They look aimless and almost as if they need the opposition to hand them the game to win, such as their fixture against the Scots.
Going into the fourth round of games, the Wales game has always been and still remains a must-win for Ireland. They simply must keep the pressure on England and hope that Scotland do them a favour, however unlikely it may be.