* IRELAND TOP 6 NATIONS AFTER 2ND WEEKEND
* IRELAND THUMP WALES, 26-3
* ENGLAND DOMINATE SCOTLAND, 20-0
* FRANCE PUNISH ITALY, 30-10
Well, it was a series of one-sided wins in the 6 Nations last weekend. Each of the 3 matches saw overwhelming victories for Ireland, England and France. Ireland got the ball rolling with a crushing, 26-3 victory over Wales. Then, England did 1 better, beating Scotland, 20-0. Finally, France disposed of Italy, 30-10.
One-sided wins are nothing new in rugby but it was quite strange to see 3 happen in 1 weekend, usually they’re spaced out a bit more. Also, the teams in the 6 Nations had become more equal in recent years and overwhelming victories by 1 side seemed a thing of the past.
IRELAND V WALES
The 23-point difference was the highest Ireland had ever achieved against Wales. With the expectation before the match been that Wales would win in a close game, it was quite a shock to see the reigning 6 Nations’ champions been reduced to also-rans.
The Irish teams did a terrific job in cutting off the Welsh team and preventing them from gaining any momentum. The Welsh pack were constantly driven back by our forwards and were consequently unable to gain any useful ball for Roberts, North et al, to capitalise on.
While Ireland were somewhat flattered by the score-line, Wales failed to put any noticeable mark on the game. It was a reverse on the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, where Wales suffocated Ireland and prevented them from gaining any momentum.
It was a terrific, tactical performance by the Irish, who perfectly dominated the Welsh side and reduced them to giving away penalties. Trimble was a star in the back-line, perfectly marshalling Welsh wizard George North, while Sexton improved from an early stuttering start to really damage Wales by his kicking, both penalties and tactical kicking (kicking for space).
Chris Henry (who’s proving to be a great replacement for Sean O’Brien) scored a push-over try, which Sexton converted. Sexton also kicked 4 penalties. More points were added by Sexton’s replacement, Paddy Jackson, who ran in a great try towards the end of the match, which he himself converted. Wales only points came from a solitary penalty by Leigh Halfpenny.
The day really belonged to the Irish forwards, who were dominant in all facets of play. Ireland now have a real chance to win the Triple Crown and even the Grand Slam. But we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. Ireland have always managed to stumble when they’re favourites. And this England team are far from push-overs.
Ireland can’t use the same tactics to suffocate England. The English have a much bigger pack of forwards. Ireland should try to use the back-line more as the English backs are much less experienced. Maybe brining Simon Zebo into the side would give Ireland more of an attacking threat. Ireland’s performance against Wales was more concentrated on defence.
ENGLAND V SCOTLAND
England came back from a heart-breaking, 26-24 loss to France, to pulverise Scotland, 20-0. The England v Scotland fixture is the oldest rugby international in the world and dates back to 1871 (England v Scotland is also the oldest Associated Football (Soccer) international in the world as well).
The 2 countries compete for the Calcutta Cup (a rugby club was started in Calcutta, India in the late-1800’s but never took off so the members took the money the club had accumulated and melted it down into a cup and gave it to the RFU in 1878 and the 2 countries have competed for it ever since).
Originally, the cup was going to be competed over by the top clubs in Britain, but the RFU decided that this type of competition went against the amateur ethos of rugby and decided to award it to the winner of the annual England/Scotland match, in honour of it been the oldest such match. There have been 132 contests between the countries so far, no matches took place during the 2 World Wars.
In the late 1980’s, after the match 1 year, the players went drinking together and took the cup with them. Dean Richards of England and John Jeffrey of Scotland played their own game with the cup and it got damaged and both players were subsequently punished by their respective unions!).
The score-line in last week’s match could have been much higher as English out-half, Owen Farrell missed a few kicks and England were denied 2 or 3 tries. English centre, Luther Burrell, looks a dangerous runner and ran in a great try. Full-back, Mike Brown (who was awarded man-of the match) got another. Farrell converted both and scrum-half, Danny Care, got a drop-goal.
England’s 20-0 win is their 5th consecutive win since 2010 (the match that year was drawn) and it was the first time Scotland failed to score a point since 1961 (the score that day was 6-0 to England)!. Of the 132 matches played, England have won 72, Scotland 42 and 18 drawn.
England have been overwhelming favourites in recent years, Scotland have only beaten England 3 times since their famous win in 1990. The countries have also met twice in the World Cup, England winning the semi-final in 1991 and the pool game in 2011.
Scotland’s performance last weekend, though, was 1 of the worst in the history of the fixture (it could be said that they were lucky to get nil!). The line-out was a shambles (Scotland lost almost half of their own throw-ins) and Scotland were also constantly penalised at the breakdown, giving away far too many penalties.
Scotland rugby is in a shambles and has been for many years. They’re the only country, apart from Italy, that failed to win the 6 Nations’ title in the 2000’s (their last title win was in 1999) and they’re usually found propping up the 6 Nations table, competing for the Wooden Spoon most years.
Scotland do have some good players (Glasgow are 4th in the Rabo 12) but interim coach, Scott Johnson, seems reluctant to pick the best team. I would like to see Stuart Hogg (ordinarily a full-back) start a few games at out-half. He played very well at out-half for the Lions in the summer.
Scotland did well in last year’s 6 Nations, ranking 3rd (though they only won 2 of their matches, against Ireland and Italy). Scotland seemed to be going through a resurgence, they had a good run of victories in the summer and winter (though against weaker opposition) but their progress seems to have stalled.
FRANCE V ITALY
France got revenge for their shock, 23-18 loss to Italy in last year’s 6 Nations, by thumping the Italians, 30-10. The score-line somewhat flattered France as Italy were undone by some simple, rookie/schoolboy errors. The type of errors which are going to keep Italy from sustaining a good run in the 6 Nations.
Italy were only 9-3 down at half-time, but had no real answer when France turned on the power. Italy scored only 1 try, while France got 3. Both sides missed a number of kicks. And it was a very ill-tempered game, with a player from each side getting red-carded (for head-butting each other!).
Red cards are unusual in a match and 2 in 1 game is almost unheard of. France also had a player sin-binned, so for 10 minutes of the match, 13 French played 14 Italians! It finished the 6 Nations weekend on a sour note.