So the Six Nations tournament is over and Wales are worthy winners, Grand Slam winners.
Let’s look at the outcome compared with my forecasts. I can take it…
1st Wales. My forecast 4th.
OK, my excuse is that I thought they had a load of injuries. And I wasn’t 100% convinced that they were that good yet. I was wrong. They played brilliantly in all areas. And although they only just shaded it vs Ireland and England, that itself shows a team that can hold on to a narrow margin. Against England they managed the 10 minutes with one man down brilliantly -England hardly saw the ball. It’s a strong team, a big team, even the wingers, North and Cuthbert, are monsters. The back row of of Lydiate, Warburton and Faletau is awesome, with Ryan Jones and Justin Tipuric stepping in when necessary. A good team which deserved its triumph.
2nd England. My forecast 3rd. I was excited by new coach Stuart Lancaster’s pick of young stars and players who hadn’t quite made it but deserved the chance. Including our Quins captain, Chris Robshaw, appointed to England duty. But I had to ask myself, are we being too optimistic, just because of all the changes? Turned out not to be the case. In the first game, against Scotland, they hung on with a brilliant defence, made at Saracens. In freezing Italy, it was more of the same, another victory. Against Wales at Twickenham, the team opened up and were unlucky not to win. A draw was on the cards when Strettle’s try went to the video ref in the last minute. Against France, the team played brilliantly, but could still have lost at the last if Trinh-Duc hadn’t fluffed the drop goal. And then, after an even first half against Ireland, the England scrum turned on the power, the Irish buckled, and it turned out to be a rout. Better each time – a very satisfactory tournament. Will Lancaster get the job full time? Hope so.
3rd Ireland. My forecast 1st.
Massive underachievement. These guys, in their provinces, are completely bossing the Heineken Cup. They come together and just don’t do it. A couple of games have been close – the margins between success and failure are so fine – but really, I don’t know why Ireland didn’t finish off Wales and France. They had the capability, the power. But not the belief. Losing Brian O’Driscoll won’t have helped. And then Paul O’Connell. But these guys are getting on. They need some new leaders.
4th France. My forecast 2nd.
Usual French unpredictability. People thought new coach Saint Andre would sort them out. Instead he seemed to be turning them into a crabbed, cautious team, reliant on forward power and kicking. Clearly it didn’t work. Will anyone come in and release the French spirit? They are the best – if they ever want to be.
5th Italy. My forecast 6th. Well, credit to the Italians. They beat Scotland and frightened the other teams, especially England in frozen Rome. They still lack that pool of players, which especially affects their backs. But it is getting better.
6th Scotland. My forecast 5th. I didn’t exactly predict triumph for Scotland. They battle well, but can’t finish things off. I don’t know why, and you know, I just don’t care!
My favourite England moments – being English:
- Tom Croft rollicking through the French defence, at the pace you only expect from wingers, to score the try that said, “This is the new England!”. And he nearly did it again against Ireland, dropping the the slippery ball as he thought about offloading to David Strettle. Maybe he should just have piled through himself again.
- The way the English forwards crushed the Irish forwards yesterday. Never seen anything like it in the Six Nations. The front row is where it was happening. I have no understanding of the dark arts that go on in there. But it was a real sign that Stuart Lancaster didn’t take any of the front three – Corbisiero – Hartley – Cole – off until right at the end. That is unusual these days, but they were so dominant, that it was just not worth changing the dynamic.
- Seeing Chris Robshaw, captain, always in the thick of the action. Just as he is at Quins. Leading from the front. You don’t hear his name on the commentary all that much because he doesn’t get the ball that much. But look at who is always at the bottom of the crucial ruck, who is putting in that vital tackle. Robbo, more often than not.
- Owen Farrell and that rather frightening wild eyed stare as he takes aim for the penalties and conversions. It has become as reassuring as Jonny Wilkinson’s clasped hands, because you know, more often than not, those kicks are going to go over.
- And Ben Youngs, back from the doldrums, darting through for a try.
So credit to Wales, a good team. And come on England, it’s looking good again!