We’ll be taking a sabbatical from our usual musings for the next few months, as work, family and vacation commitments mean we will be spending infinitely less time than usual paying attention to the goings on in the rugby world. Instead we’ll leave you each week with the best of our trawlings on YouTube for the highlights of the weekend’s Super Rugby action and this weekend’s penultimate round of the Six Nations, spiced up with a few one-liner thoughts of our own on each.
The Six Nations
With the Six Nations for all intents and purposes done and dusted in England’s favour, there simply remains the final weekend to sort out the pecking order in what has at times been a roller coaster of a tournament.
England have clinched the title and all that remains is to see whether or not a second consecutive Grand Slam is in the making for them along with topping the mighty All Blacks world record winning streak of 18 games. However, apart from last weekend’s thrashing of Scotland they have not looked the awe-inspiring side that you think would come with such a reputation. Apart from the Scotland match, England have rarely looked like the side with the ruthless efficiency and consistency of their Antipodean rivals. They’ve been good but rarely spectacular, and only really allowed to shine when up against opposition sides that simply didn’t show up which this year has only been Scotland. Nevertheless, there is no getting away from the fact that 18 games on the trot is a remarkable achievement and genuine cause for celebration for England and their supporters. What has impressed us the most is England’s ability to stay the course and get the job done in the last quarter even when their starts on some occassions have been by their own admission poor. This is a team that knows how to dig deep better than any other right now when things are not going their way, and for us this has been the real testament to their character and success over the last eighteen months. Whether or not there will be enough in the tank to overcome a wounded and angry Irish side at home in Dublin remains to be seen but it should provide a thrilling and fitting end to a fascinating tournament.
The main pretenders to the throne going into the tournament, Ireland, have for the most part had a poor Championship by their high standards. Their ongoing inability to score tries remains a major impediment to any kind of consistent success, the only exception to this being in the Italian match where just like England against Scotland they were faced with an opposition that simply didn’t show up. Despite their talents, serious lapses in concentration by Ireland, as evidenced in their opening game against Scotland, have meant that ultimately this side has promised so much but once again delivered very little. Their final match of the tournament in Dublin against England this weekend should be plenty of motivation for them to make a statement that when it comes to breaking winning streaks, you’d be hard pressed not to back their chances after they managed to end New Zealand’s party last year.
Wales have also struggled with consistency and a lack of finishing skills at key moments, the most notable being in the match against England. However, as evidenced by their demolition of Ireland this past weekend and almost knocking England off their perch last month, Wales have had moments of intense brilliance. Had Wales actually managed to beat England in a match they should have won, we would be telling a very different story of their fortunes in a tournament which few predicted them to do well in. The final Test in Paris against a resurgent French side will be a final obstacle of monumental proportions, but you sense there is a change in attitude in the Welsh camp after last Friday’s heroics in Cardiff.
Scotland have had the Cinderella tournament of all the teams and the resurgence of Scottish rugby has been very heartening to see after the many years in the wilderness up till now. Until the England game they were having a stellar Championship, and despite the total and humiliating implosion at Twickenham last weekend, Scotland are once more a force to be reckoned with. How this momentum is carried forward once their remarkable Coach Vern Cotter leaves at the end of this tournament remains to be seen, but there is more than enough talent in this Scottish side to cause any of the big sides some serious concern. With a relatively easy game against Italy at home to finish the tournament they should still finish well on the table.
France have burst back onto the Six Nations stage with a vengeance and although the results may not quite back up this argument with only two wins, they have still looked exceptionally promising especially in terms of their ability to compete for the silverware in next year’s tournament. The past year has been a very successful rebuilding process under Coach Guy Noves and France have provided plenty of warning signs of where they are going and the increasing threat they will pose. Possessing a punishing forward pack and a set of backs that are increasingly causing us to reach for the caps lock on our computers when we type the word flair, France are only going to get better with each successive outing. The final game against Wales will provide a fitting glimpse into the character of this French side and how far they have come.
Italy have surprised us at times. They have also given some weight to the argument that under new Coach Conor O’Shea they should at least be given the time frame of 2 years to see what progress they can make before the debate over whether or not a relegation system should be introduced to the Six Nations, which would allow up and coming European nations, like Georgia in particular, a crack at European rugby’s most cherished prize. We side with the argument in favor of more time, but also that it cannot be indefinite as it has in the past. Rugby is reaching out to a far bigger audience these days and Italy have to recognise this and produce results. There is no lack of spirit and heart in Italian rugby and Conor O’Shea certainly seems to be pointing his charges in the right direction. It’s still very early days but Italy has managed to produce some real quality rugby in the opening forty minutes during much of this Championship and it is for this reason we feel they need the benefit of the doubt for another year at least.
Here are the official video summaries of the action from last weekend.
Our predictions for this Saturday’s final round!
Scotland vs Italy
After the horror show that was the match against England, Scotland have a relatively easy game against Italy at home in Murrayfield. They should be back to their try scoring best and as a result should get a healthy points haul over Italy winning by 20 points and hopefully seeing them finish in the top three on the table.
France vs Wales
Very hard match to call but one in which we think Wales will find it hard to repeat their heroics of last Friday in Cardiff against Ireland. France at home have looked good and are getting more dangerous with every outing. It will be close, but France ultimately by five to put a fine point on a Championship which has seen the Gallic giant rise from its slumber of the last four years.
Ireland vs England
The weather is predicted to be foul and as a result it should favor Ireland’s tactical grind led by the Irish half back partnership of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, especially at home in Dublin in front of an exceptionally vocal crowd. The rivalry between these two sides is always something special and when England has both a Grand Slam and a world record on the line, Ireland will have even more impetus than normal to rain on their parade. As a result of the weather and home advantage we feel that Ireland’s continuing inability to rack up five pointers with any degree of consistency is unlikely to be that much of a hindrance on Saturday. If they can withstand the physical punishment England will serve up, Ireland should make marginally better use of the conditions and derail the English record machine by two points in a very tight contest with emotions running full throttle on both sides. What a prospect!
As the Six Nations wraps up this weekend all eyes will shift South of the Equator to this year’s Super Rugby Championship, especially with the mouth-watering prospect of a Lions tour to New Zealand in June. Just like last year, New Zealand sides are looking unstoppable. However, from what we’ve seen so far this year there are glimmers of hope once more in South African rugby and the Argentinian franchise the Jaguares are showing more of the promise they were supposed to have offered last year. It still looks like it is going to be a long and painful season for the Japanese side the Sunwolves, and Australian rugby still looks slightly less than inspirational. Still it’s early days yet and as these three videos show this tournament still showcases some exceptional skill levels across all the participants.
We’ll continue each week to serve up the best YouTube summaries of the weekend’s Super Rugby action and sprinkle in the odd few sound bite thoughts of our own until our various commitments allow us the luxury of devoting more of our free time to our glorious sport come May. Till then sit back and be mesmerised by both the speed and skill that this tournament puts on display courtesy of The Tight Five on YouTube.