Having reached the halfway stage of the Six Nations, we take a look at the individual teams’ chances of success of the 4 Home Nations: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as they do battle for the glory and the trophy.
The way in which Eddie Jones has turned around this England side, has been nothing short of staggering. From the disastrous home World Cup, in which they failed to get past the pool stages, Jones has made England the Northern Hemisphere’s top side in just over a year. In 2016 for the first time ever, England won all their games in a calendar year, an incredible run which just shows the impact, the previous South Africa and Australia coach has had.
The opening two games of this year’s Six Nations have simply been further proof that England are well and truly once again a force to be reckoned with in international Rugby. The 16-21 win over Wales last weekend, was widely considered to be one of the best games the championship has seen in recent years, and the fact England came out on top speaks volumes about this current squad. One of sport’s greatest clichés, is so because it is completely true. Champions win when they are not at their best performance-wise. Wales won many key battles last Saturday, but England won the game.
“The opening two games of this year’s Six Nations has simply been further proof that England are well and truly once again a force to be reckoned with in international Rugby”
Jones may be the general, but he has plenty of sergeants fighting his battles. Maro Itoje was devastating at number 6, while Owen Farrell has found consistency in his kicking at fly-half. They are favourites for the tournament for a reason- they are the best side in Europe.
It is far from over though, difficult tests against Scotland and Ireland await. Before that Italy arrive at Twickenham, and while the Azzurri will be no pushovers, England will be confident of extending the streak to 17-0. Although Jones will be rotating the squad slightly to give his “finishers” starts against the Italians, he will also be targeting his sides’ first bonus point of the competition.
If England can maintain current levels of performance, it will be very hard to look past them for a second straight Grand Slam and 6 Nations title. Jones has transformed the hopes of the Twickenham faithful in just over a year and will be hoping to maintain momentum ahead of the 2019 world cup in Japan. Experts are already whispering that this is the best side since the magnificent class of 2003 with Wilkinson, Johnson and co- watch this space.
Ever since narrowly and losing their 2015 World Cup quarter-final against the Wallabies in controversial circumstances, the Scottish team have come on leaps and bounds.
A team growing in confidence, they made a great start to the tournament in front of their home crowd at Murrayfield, having beat title favourites Ireland by 27 points to 22. The Scots were clinical at first taking advantage of Irish errors to take the game 21-8 before the end of the first half, through two tries from 2016’s Player of the Tournament, Stuart Hogg and another from Alex Dunbar.
Then came the Irish onslaught with the away side who despite some fantastic defending from Scotland, took the lead by 1 point. However led by their captain and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, the Scots fought back. After two Irish fouls, Laidlaw showed his composure, scoring two penalties to win the game.
“The Scots will be looking to regroup before facing off against Wales on Saturday”
However in their game versus France, it was a reversal of fortunes as Scotland were defeated 16-22. The Scots were dropping off like flies as captain Laidlaw went off injured, before flanker and deputy captain John Barclay in his 50th appearance and then later his replacement John Hardie both coming off due to head knocks. While hooker Fraser Brown was also forced off injured. Their efforts were not helped when fly-half Finn Russell lost his composure and somehow missed a simple conversion. Ultimately having been a close contest with the score 16 all, in the final ten minutes France took control and a weakened Scotland were lucky to finish with a losing bonus point.
Now that their talismanic captain has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury, the Scots will be looking to regroup before facing off against Wales on Saturday. While it seems almost certain that Italy will be leaving the tournament with the wooden spoon, Scotland should be aiming higher than 5th place in what will be Coach Vern Cotter’s final Six Nations. It is up to players like Russell, Hogg and Barclay to lead the team in their remaining three fixtures.
Scotland certainly have potential, they just need to realise it!
With a comfortable win and a devastating loss under their belt, and three matches still to play, Wales are currently sitting in third position.
Due to the nature of the competition, however following the addition of bonus points, the mere three points currently separating first and fifth place, mean that there is still very much all to play for. Welsh head Coach Rob Howley, has a vast experience including both winning and losing against England in his playing career. In an interview for Radio 5 live last week, He was described as a “class act” by former England scrum half Matt Dawson. Howley told Wales Rugby Union that his side gave a ‘75 minute performance’ against England on Saturday, blaming the defeat on ‘lack of composure’ in the final minutes.
“A tenth consecutive victory against the Scots at Murrayfield could see Wales climbing in the leader board to second place”
BBC Radio 5 Live claimed prior to the match that a poll showed that the age-old Wales-England rivalry was so great that the majority of Welsh fans would rather see Wales beat England but take home the wooden spoon in the overall competition than claim the Six Nations title whilst having lost to the red and whites. Up until the final minutes, it was looking as if the Welsh dreams were to be fulfilled, but they were shattered by a late converted try from England.
Despite this disappointing end for Wales, fans leaving the stadium were quick to commend the quality of rugby that they saw from both teams and look positively towards to the rest of the competition.
After praising the team’s performances so far, Captain Alun Wyn Jones has urged his men to maintain absolute composure for the full 80 minutes in this Saturday’s fixture against Scotland. With their most highly anticipated match out the way, a tenth consecutive victory against the Scots at Murrayfield could see Wales climbing in the leader board to second place.
If Howley’s side continues to play as “superbly” as he states they have until now and manage maintain the focus needed to eliminate the “little errors” which proved so costly last weekend, they look to be a force to be reckoned with.
As I’m writing, Ireland sit second in the table, having picked up two tasty bonus points against Italy and Scotland. Admittedly, neither of those two sides have a reputation for being fantastic defensively, but you can only get beat the team put in front of you.
Ireland have been set back by Scotland, but that’s a team still riding on the wave of the World Cup. Now that Greig Laidlaw is out for the tournament, Scotland won’t be in contention, and it’s hard to see any other team than England challenging for the title.
Wales are a team lacking leadership, and with Cuthbert sent back to Cardiff Blues to cut grass, Wales will hope they can pull themselves together when they take on Scotland. They’re turning to Keelan Giles, ‘the next Shane Williams’, to turn their tourney around. He looks good, but not that good.
“Ireland may be outsiders at this stage, but if everything comes together they might be contenders”
France are the next obstacle for Ireland’s Six Nations challenge. Having beaten a Scotland side that had a majestic first half against Ireland, France are a danger, especially in the scrum. But Ireland have three aces up their sleeves, as Jonny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien are set to return to the scrum.
Heaslip and O’Brien will help secure the Irish scrum against a weighty French pack, whilst they’ll have to pray that their excellent ball retention helps to stem the flow of tries they’re conceding. At the other end, Sexton returning at 10 should add a more clinical edge from the tee.
Though Rory Best has played it down, Garry Ringrose could be the difference for Ireland over the next three games. Comparisons to Brian O’Driscoll may be a bit of a stretch at this stage, but he looks like a right talent.
Ireland may be outsiders at this stage, but if everything comes together they might be contenders. So long as the scrum-half question, the defensive frailties, and Jonny Sexton’s fitness is sorted, expect Ireland to be going into that final crunch match with England still in with a shout.