Rugby Union:Six Nations Championship

The rugby world cup in the autumn had certainly caused a fair amount of  upheaval in the following months and raised intriguing questions about the Six Nations. England’s shambolic efforts had led to a complete overhaul in the coaching staff, a new approach to squad get-togethers and plenty of new faces. How would they cope? Wales had been the surprise package of the World Cup, reaching the semi-finals. Could they continue their progress? France had played poorly for most of the World Cup yet reached the final and nearly won it. Which French team would turn up? Italy had a new coach. How would they do? Would Scotland be able to score a try? How would Ireland play without Brian O’Driscoll?

The first round of fixtures began with France taking on Italy in Paris. The Italians played some promising stuff and offered a bit more invention than recent years but still couldn’t match the French. At Murrayfield the new-look England were dominated in terms of possession and territory by the Scots. However, the Scots were still unable to capitalise on this and a charged down kick at the start of the second half saw Charlie Hodgson score a try which proved decisive and enabled England to win at Murrayfield for the first time in eight years and take the Calcutta Cup. The final game of the weekend in Dublin was by far the best of the three with a repeat of the world cup quarter-final between Ireland and Wales. The game was closely fought throughout but hinged on two tip-tackles in the second half. Wales had a man sent to the sin-bin when he probably should have been sent-off for his tackle. In the last minutes of the game Ireland saw themselves go down to fourteen men for a much less blatant tip-tackle. The Welsh took advantage to win the game.

Week Two kicked off with England playing Italy in a chilly Olympic stadium in Rome, which was being used for the first time in the Six Nations. In a close game the decisive moment again came from a Charlie Hodgson charge-down which led to England’s only try of the game. That and Owen Farrell’s perfect kicking was enough for England to win their second away match in a row. Later that day France were due to play Ireland at the Stade de France. Despite the fact that it had been known for days that the weather would be freezing for an evening kick-off no alternative plans were made. Hot-air blowers were used   to try and prevent the pitch from freezing but it was decided just minutes before kick-off that the game wouldn’t take place. This was particularly hard on the Irish fans who had travelled in vain. Instead of the French authorities being fined by the IRB I think they should be made to reimburse any Irish fan with a valid ticket for the game for their costs in going to Paris.  The next day saw Wales take on Scotland in Cardiff. Again the Scots showed glimpses of potential without scoring a try and the Welsh were able to pull away for a fairly comfortable win.

Two weeks later the third round of matches took place. France travelled to Murrayfield where the Scots again showed promise without scoring as many points as they should. The French made the most of their chances to take the lead. Scotland did manage to score tries at last but it wasn’t enough to stop the French winning. Wales travelled to Twickenham in the unusual position of being favoured to win. The English defended stoutly and contained the Welsh attack. The game remained close throughout and when the Welsh were reduced to fourteen men for ten minutes Wales were able to control possession. The Welsh scored a breakaway try near the end of the game and England showed some adventure when needing a converted try of their own to tie the scores. In the last moments of the game England spread the ball wide and looked to have scored a try despite a desperate Welsh tackle. The TMO reviewed it and decided it was impossible to say that a try had definitely been scored so couldn’t give it. Wales had won – just. In Dublin the Irish had a comfortable win over the Italians despite not being at their best after a three week lay off.

What should have been a rest week saw the postponed game between France and Ireland played. The Irish took a good lead into half-time but the French hauled them in quite early in the second half. however, they were unable to keep the momentum going and the game ended in a draw.

So we were back on schedule going into the fourth round of matches which began with Scotland hosting Ireland. The Scots began the game well but the Irish were able to take their chances and were somewhat flattered by the final score. Wales took on Italy in Cardiff  and found the Italians difficult to break down in the first half. It was only well into the second half that the Welsh managed to score a try. This was followed by another soon after and in the end a win that sounds easier than it was. The final game of the weekend was France at home to England. The English took a lead in the first half after two good counter-attacking tries, the first they had scored in the championship that weren’t from charge-downs. France came back strongly in the second half to trail by only two points in the final moments of the game when Trinh-Duc made a poor attempt at a game-winning drop-goal after being given a perfect platform by his team-mates. England thus won the game and for the first time won three away games in a Six Nations championship.

The final round of matches began with the wooden spoon decider in Rome between Italy and Scotland. The Italians dominated the game to a surprising extent as the Scots produced a poor performance. Only one try was scored and it went to Italy who beat Scotland for the third successive time in Rome. This left Scotland bottom of the table with a first whitewash since 2005. The Welsh sought a third Grand Slam in seven years when the met the French in Cardiff. Caution ruled the day in the early stages with neither side risking much and the French kicking the ball upfield rather than running with it. Wales had the best of the first half and deservedly scored a try when Alex Cuthbert jinked his way through the French defence. France improved in the second half but excellent Welsh defence kept them at bay and Wales completed the win to take the championship and Grand Slam. This left England and Ireland with only pride to play for at Twickenham. the first half was close but in the second the English pack absolutely destroyed the Irish one and England cruised to a convincing victory.

So Wales deservedly won the title and the Grand Slam. They had close calls against Ireland and England but of all the teams looked to have the biggest threat to score tries. The French were largely disappointing, all too often looking unsure of their best team and playing some quite conservative rugby. England made great strides from being unfancied in their opening game in Scotland to demolishing the Irish in the final game. The Irish had some good moments but will be worried by the way they were battered by England. Italy hinted at something better but didn’t really look like beating anyone except the Scots , who have some good players but can’t convert pressure into points. Overall it was a championship in which defences were better than attacks with games often decided by mistakes. There isn’t much to choose between many of the teams but the test will come when they tour the southern hemisphere later in the year. Those teams won’t have seen too much to worry them in this year’s  championship.

Results

Scotland v England 6-13
France v Italy 30-12
Ireland v Wales 21-23

Italy v England 15-19
Wales v Scotland 27-13

Ireland v Italy 42-10
England v Wales 12-19
Scotland v France 17-23

France v Ireland 17-17

Wales v Italy 24-3
Ireland v Scotland 32-14
France v England 22-24

Wales v France 16-9
Italy v Scotland 13-6
England v Ireland 30-9

Final Table

1 Wales        10 points
2 England      8
3 Ireland       5
4 France        5
5 Italy            2
6 Scotland     0

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