IRELAND TOP 6 NATIONS DESPITE LOSS TO ENGLAND

* IRELAND TOP 6 NATIONS TABLE

* ENGLAND BEAT IRELAND 13-10

* WALES SHOCKINGLY THUMP FRANCE 27-6

* SCOTLAND STUMBLE PAST ITALY, WINNING 21-20

Well, Ireland were derailed in their quest for a 4th Triple Crown in 11 years (2004, ’06, ’07 and ’09 (as part of the Grand Slam that year)) after losing 13-10 to England. However, Ireland still have a chance of winning the 6 Nations title this year as they remain top of the 6 Nations table.

While Ireland, England, France and Wales have all got the same record so far in the tournament (2 wins and a loss from 3 games) Ireland are in the lead due to the higher points difference the team has accrued in their last 3 games (high scores in games against Scotland and Wales and low number of points conceded by Ireland).

The 6 Nations tournament has really been thrown open, with 4 teams on an equal footing. I personally can’t remember the last time the tournament was spread out so evenly, with there been 4 possible winners and it makes for a very exciting last few weeks.

Ireland’s game against England was a real barn-burner, with the action flowing freely in the 1st-half, the advantage changing hands constantly between the 2 teams as neither country were able to gain a lead in the game. The 1st half finished with England leading by 3-0. The low-score was testimony to the topsy-turvy nature of the game.

Ireland came back with a bang early in the 2nd half, a terrific try scored by Rob Kearney (Kearney took a great angle for his run, cutting through the English defence to score under the posts. A copybook try, straight off the training ground, England were left embarrassed having conceded it.) Sexton added the conversion.  

The try caught the English off guard and they took a while to recover. Sexton punished them with tactical kicking and English frustration got the better of them as they conceded a penalty. Sexton made the score, 10-3 to Ireland. All was looking great for the Irish but they were unable to maintain their lead.

Firstly, English out-half Owen Farrell kicked another penalty (making the score 10-6). Then, England showed that they could play some rugby as well: full-back Mike Brown (voted M.O.T.M.) ran a great line, off a pass by captain Chris Robshaw, before timing a beautiful pass to scrum-half, Mike Blair, who touched down under the posts. Farrell was quick to make the score, 13-10.

The lead looked set to change hands again, but the Irish players started to run out of ‘gas’. The 1st half had been played at a frantic pace, but this seemed to have had more of an affect on the Irish team than their English counterparts. For the last 20 minutes, the Irish were confounded by a wall-like defence and had no strike runners to counter this.

Ireland’s lack of pace in the back-line was badly exposed. Neither D’Arcy nor O’Driscoll have the pace to really threaten an opposition back-line anymore and Trimble is more of a direct runner. Only the Kearney brothers had the requisite snap but they had few opportunities. The absence of a Keith Earls or a Simon Zebo was sorely felt.

Ireland were also not helped by some wayward kicking from Jonny Sexton. In contrast to his performance against Wales, Sexton seemed to decline as the match wore on, kicking aimlessly and sometimes into touch on the full, therefore not gaining any ground for his team.

Ironically, the fortnight layoff between games seemed to affect the Irish team negatively as they had lost the momentum they had built up in their opening matches, although England had the same lay-off. Ireland have always had a problem with staying focused and fresh in the last quarter of a game.

England’s performance was a master-class in how to cut down an attacking team. Their defence was impenetrable and they expertly blocked any Irish momentum. England are on a roll at the moment and still have a chance at winning the Triple Crown, as they’ve already beaten Scotland, 20-0. They still have to face Wales though, who are a very tough prospect!

Ireland next face Italy (Sat, 8th March @ 2.30 in Aviva). Jonny Sexton is an injury worry for that game, though I wouldn’t have picked him anyway. By no means should Italy be underestimated, but Irish coach Joe Schmidt should be looking to rest some of his players before the big game against France.

O’Driscoll is another who definitely should be rested, he’s not looking great out there, he’s been quite off the pace the last few games. Still, it will be his last international at Landsdowne and he could run on to his home pitch as the world’s most capped player (although he’s got 139 caps, 8 of those are for the Lions so he’s ‘only’ played 131 times for Ireland).

No disrespect to Italy, but Ireland should be looking to gain as many points as possible from this game and should really try to thrash the Italians. France scored 30 points against them and Ireland should try to do even better.

WALES V FRANCE

After falling badly to Ireland 2 weeks ago, Wales came back with a bang, thumping France, 27-6! The Welsh played with renewed vigour and crushed their hosts, scoring 2 great tries and conceding none. It was another poor outing for Phillipe Saint-Andre’s men and it looks like the French authorities will already be looking for a replacement.

The former great winger has had a very poor time since he took over as coach of the national side but he hasn’t been helped by the French clubs refusing to rest their international players during the season. Nearly half of the French squad played for their clubs during the lay-off.

Take nothing away from the Welsh performance, though. They were a much changed side from the team that failed so badly against Ireland. They were all over the French team from the get go and took a form grip on the game. The French had no answer to the Welsh onslaught and were already 20-6 down by the time the 1st half ended.

The French did well to only concede one try in the 2nd half, but already the damage had been done and the French came away as very poor seconds. The French crowd will not accept such a turgid display when France host Scotland next weekend. France’s backs are against the wall.

Both France and Wales are still in the running for the 6 Nations trophy, though, as both teams have only lost 1 match. France have the better record accumulatively, as they beat England and thumped the Italians. While Wales struggled to beat Italy before been thumped themselves by Ireland.

ITALY V SCOTLAND

Scotland had to really battle to achieve a win against Italy. Scotland were losing for most of the match before a Duncan Weir drop-goal secured a win for the Scots, minutes before the end of the match. It was quite a match, short on brilliant play but full of excitement and drama. 

There were some great tries scored in the match, by both teams and the lead changed hands many times before been decided by a last minute drop-goal. Scotland repaired some of the damage after failing woefully against England, while Italy showed that they cannot be underestimated and will fight to the last minute.

CONCLUSION

We now come to the penultimate weekend of 6 Nations rugby action and it looks to be a mouth-watering fare. First, Ireland host Italy, then France play Scotland. And on Sun 9th, Wales face England. Scotland have a chance to really turn things around while France will be looking for redemption.

Wales and England are on an even keel and there isn’t much separating the teams. The Welsh personnel are some of the best in the world but Ireland showed that they can be nullified and England have proven that they have the ability to silence a more illustrious opponent. I’d say this match will go down to the wire. I think the English have the edge in momentum.

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