04 February 2014

1st Round of the 6 Nations as intriguing as ever

The 6 Nations 2014 is up and running and all three games have been very revealing. As always each game had it own unique dynamics and tale to tell.

Italy were the surprise package of the weekend and ran Wales a lot closer in Cardiff than anybody predicted. Despite a dreadfully unlucky bounce in the first few minutes, which cost them seven points, they shut down the Welsh running game for the most part. It is still early days, but on the evidence of last weekend, I may have underestimated Italy and they seem to have built on last seasons 6 Nations performances.

Wales thought they got off to the perfect start with a lucky try off the bat against Wales. But they failed to kick on and deliver a convincing performance. Of course last season they started poorly against Ireland and turned things around to win the Championship. Wales only scored six points in the second half and were outscored by Italy during that period. Their lack of incisiveness in attack and their inability to open up Italy apart from Jamie Roberts break that led to Scott Williams try, will be a worry heading to Dublin. There is plenty for Wales to work on this week.

Ireland comfortably saw off Scotland. In the first half Scotland threw the kitchen sink at Ireland and had very little to show for it. Ireland scored a crucial try, almost against the run of play, just before the break. That was a body blow for Scotland who had dominated possession and field position. But once Ireland got their hands on the ball in the second half it was all one-way traffic. Ireland looked impressive with and without the ball. But that assessment must be tempered by the fact the Scotland looked pretty toothless throughout.

Scotland can take heart from their commitment and efforts but will be alarmed once again by their lack of ability to score tries.  They have two genuine strikers out wide in Hogg and Maitland. But their mid-field are ball carriers and not distributers and struggle to put their best strikers into space. In the back row Scotland went for big ball carriers in Denton, Brown and Wilson. But lost the breakdown battle to Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry, which did nothing to help their continuity game and ability to build pressure on Ireland with quick ruck ball. This performance could signal a long tough campaign for Scotland.

France saw off England in a tight, tense affair in Paris. France got the luck of the bounce in the first half and looked to have England in trouble but were outplayed for most of the second half. Their defence was sloppy as they defended carelessly and slipped off tackles. They struggled with the speed of the game when England increased the pace. They were also sloppy at the ruck and quite often operated off slow ball. But thay have players who possess the “X” factor and can break open a game with individual brilliance. It was that brilliance that saw them score the crucial try to win the game. But in this form it is hard to see France kick on and win the next four games.

England will kick themselves for losing to France. They were in a hole in the first half but played extremely well to build a winning position only to see victory snatched away at the death. The substitution of Danny Care and Billy Vunipola seemed to disrupt England’s flow at a crucial time of the game. But despite their disappointment England will take a lot of heart out of their performance. Their set-piece was strong, although the scrum was under pressure late in the game. Their physicality in the contact area and relentless continuity game gives them scoring power. They certainly cannot win the Grand Slam but on this form they are real Championship contenders.

If Round 1 is a barometer for this year’s Championship, there are plenty of turns on the road to look forward to again next weekend.