The Second Week Of The Six Nations
After opening weekend wins for Scotland, England and Wales there are another three games this weekend.
After the first games I would be surprised if there is a Grand Slam. No side managed to claim a try-scoring bonus point in the first weekend while Ireland and France were able to return from away games with a losing bonus point. The likelihood is that the championship will go down to who gains the most bonus points.
Italy v Ireland Saturday 2.25pm
Ireland started very slowly at Murrayfield against Scotland and were 21-3 down. They came back to lead 22-21 with 20 minutes to go but lost late on. Their slow start was compounded by line out difficulties all game and a predictable attack in the first half.
Ireland started to really attack the breakdown in the second half, and improved and really should have won. Ireland dominated on several fronts with more possession, more clean breaks, more defenders beaten, more offloads but could have converted more chances.
Italy led Wales at half time in Rome but faded badly in the second half. A bright spot was strong scrummaging but what started out promisingly fell away with lack of discipline and fitness late on. It remains difficult to see where a win comes from in this championship. Their back line carried minimal attacking threat and once their strength up front was matched they had little to offer
For this game odds are Ireland 1/16, Italy 9/1, and Ireland are 20 point handicap favourites. Wales beat Italy by 26 points in bad weather and Ireland, bad start last weekend notwithstanding, are a better team than Wales. Ireland -20 at 10/11 Bet365 is my selection.
Wales v England Saturday 4.50pm
Wales struggled upfront and in attack.in a first half in Rome whee they had 73% possession and 78% territory and didn’t so a lot with it. They pulled away in the second half scoring 30 unanswered points and three tries but face a much bigger test this weekend.
Wales have to create more against the better teams. Fly half Sam Davies came on at half time against Italy and showed a greater capacity for getting his back-line moving and had a hand in all three Welsh tries. Davies’ ability to take the ball on the fly, take it closer to the gain-line, and make better decisions when he gets there will be needed this weekend.
England, meanwhile, will consider themselves hugely fortunate to have come away with a win against France as they failed to control the game with any consistency. In attack they were inaccurate and full of mistakes. England won mostly because they were fitter and used their substitutes better and were able to up the power as the game broke up. In terms of attacking rugby, France seemed the better team.
England are having to adapt slightly in the absence of key players. Losing Billy and Mako Vunipola meant a significant dearth of carrying power and distribution. The absence of Chris Robshaw and George Kruis, two important organisers is also important. Skipper Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler and James Haskell were short of game-time for the first week too.
Back row balance is a key issue as Egland were blown away at the break-down against France and this week face Warburton and Tipuric. England played a 5 at 6 and a 6 at 7 and I would expect changes looking forward.
This match, with Egland going for their sixteenth win in a row sees odds of England 1-2 and Wales 2/1, with England five point favourites on the handicap. This should be very close. Wales typically have a marked home advantage over England and whilst England are probably he better team they have key absentees. I will take Wales +5 at 10/11 William Hill.
France v Scotland Sunday 3pm
France played England off the park for 60 minutes at Twickenham. Their huge forwards controlled the close exchanges and, at long last, their backs really turned it on. Louis Picamoles was brilliant but scrum-half Baptiste Serin has revived the French team and increased the tempo of their attacks hugely. Sadly for the French, I felt Guy Noves the coach got his substitution strategy wrong after an hour, Serin was substituted, the French attack withered and England’s bench changed the game. France with 127 carries to England’s 96, and 591 metres made to England’s 383, lost.
Novès will be really disappointed that France did not see the game out, but he has to be encouraged by how his team played. They are creating a powerful mix of big carries, off-loads and links to their back three who are capable of breaking out from any part of the pitch at any moment .Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci were both frequently involved and Scott Spedding hit some great lines. The quick passing and interplay between forwards and backs was fun to watch for that hour.
Many pundits and writers agreed that while Scotland could definitely beat Ireland, few expected them to actually do it. With Wales and Italy to come at Murrayfield, Scotland could well ensure they finish the tournament with a 100 per cent record at home. Against Ireland Scotland had three chances in the first half and scored three tries. They were smashed in the front row but benefitted from miscues in the Irish line out, huge work-rate by the back five forwards (Jonny Gray made 28 tackles in a match) with tireless defending and work rate off the ball and the individual brilliance of Stuart Hogg.
Most significantly when they went behind 22-21 with 20 minutes to go they came back went ahead and closed out the game. This is a huge step forward for a team that has struggled to do this for several years. In the last few minutes Greig Laidlaw’s composure and game management were crucial.
They face quite the challenge to back this up in Paris, especially the key question of how do they hold out on back foot in the scrum. Facing the French off the back foot is going to be difficult, notwithstanding their ability to create turnovers at key moments and sterling defence and line speed. To do this again will take a lot of work.
Outright odds for the game are France 4/9, Scotland 2/1 and France -6/Scotland +6. I will take France -6 at 10/11 generally