So after two rounds, how are those predictions from Sportsthoughts 61 looking?
Well, most important, it’s looking good for England so far. In the first game, with a bold attacking performance at Twickenham, they beat Scotland 38-18. Until the last quarter it was a pretty close game – Scotland gave it some, too, and scored two excellent breakaway tries. Central to England’s victory was some superb play at the breakdown by England’s forwards, with captain Chris Robshaw to the fore, and a cool display of kicking by young fly half, Owen Farrell. Both on the spot kicks and the tactical kicking in open play, he was masterful. He kept the points board ticking over in the first half, building the platform to let rip in the second. Couldn’t argue with him being chosen as Man of the Match.
Today, in the driving rain in Dublin, this young England side really came of age. The game required totally different tactics than last week. Today it was all about kicking for territory, moving the defending line forward, wrestling for the ball in the rucks and mauls, and kicking the penalties when they came. Not pretty – rugby really only for the purists, where those nuances of territory and possession are endlessly fascinating. I think I’m almost there these days, though I’d always rather see the backs let loose for some running rugby. It was an intense physical struggle. Tempers frayed frequently. There were handling errors galore, especially by Ireland. That was a big difference: England held on to the ball better and stayed more in control. It was a mature performance, capped by another excellent kicking display from Owen Farrell. Interviewed afterwards he said taking those penalty kicks weren’t so different to the endless kicks in training. Well, not if you are cool enough to shut out all the pressure of a big game. Which he seems to be. The mark of a top athlete.
And Chris Robshaw got Man of the Match, for another marauding performance. I was pleased about that. Quins bias of course.
Oh yeah, and England won 12-6.
And then there was France. I predicted them to be second, with a real fear that they would sweep all before them, England included. They’ve lost two out of two. Away to Italy and home to Wales, which they may have regarded as their most winnable games. Maybe that was the problem. They have all the talent, but half the time just don’t function as a team. Next up is England at Twickenham. Traditionally they don’t do too well there, but you just can’t rule out them waking up and giving England a pasting. I wouldn’t bet on it though. No, never bet on the French.
Ireland looked superb in the first half against Wales, then held on for victory as Wales came back in last week’s game in Cardiff. Today they were outwitted and outmuscled by England. A team in transition and maybe third – or perhaps second, given France’s implosion – will be about right.
Wales will be pleased to win in Paris after losing at home to Ireland. They aren’t convincing at the moment, but have the talent. Don’t rule out a surge in the remaining games.
Scotland can take confidence from a spirited display against England and a good victory against Italy. Italy can take pride in beating France. I wouldn’t bet against Scotland beating Wales and maybe even Ireland. Things could be close in the pursuing pack.
Pursuing England. I’m not gloating. It’s only two games in. Anything could happen. That’s the glory of the Six Nations. But I think England can be quietly confident that something good is building.
France in two weeks time… allez les Anglais!
Photos all from Google Images.